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First Edition, 1873; Second Edition, 1874; 
Third Edition, 1880 ; Fourth Edition, 1889. 
Re-issued 1893. Reprinted 1904. 




MANY of those who were most intimately associated 
with the late Mr. Maurice, in the untiring and many- 
sided work upon which he so freely spent himself for 
his country and his fellow-men, were inclined, while 
he lived, to feel indignant and discouraged that so 
utterly noble and brave a life was not better appre- 
ciated. That the first theologian of their time, who 
had done more than any other man to widen and 
deepen English thought, should be entirely ignored by 
the dispensers of Church patronage, might not indeed 
have surprised them. He was not of the stuff of 
which dignitaries are made. It is a rare chance in 
Church government which lands prophets or apostles 
in stalls or thrones. But he had claims on the reading 
and working classes of the nation such as no other 
man had, and which also seemed to be ignored except 
by a small minority. His "History of Moral and 
Metaphysical Philosophy'' (to mention one only of 


his greater works) was a mine of learning made living 
and human, and of original thought made useful for 
the humblest student, such as no other living man 
had produced. In all the higher departments of 
thought they saw writers borrowing from this and 
other of his works, much in the same way as American 
writers do from Mr. Emerson, of whose intellectual 
orchard the author of "The Fable for Critics" writes: 

" They might strip every tree and he never would catch 'em, 
His Hesperides have no fierce dragon to watch 'em ; 
When they send him a dishful and ask him to try 'em, 
He never suspects how the sly rogues came by 'em, 
He wonders why 'tis there are none such his trees on, 
And thinks 'em the best he has tasted this season." 

The plunder was never acknowledged, while the 
reading public was assured by many of its instructors, 
who owed the best part of their own thought to Mr. 
Maurice, that he was confused, mystical, a beater of 
the air. On the other hand, though he went quietly 
on bearing the chief burthen of some of the most 
important social movements of the time, as President, 
for instance, of the Society for Promoting Working 
Men's Associations, and Principal of the Working 
Men's College and of Queen's College, his name was 
not in men's mouths, and he got none of the help for 
his well-considered and far-seeing efforts which has 


been poured in our day plena manu on all kinds of 
empirical and mischievous charities. That he should 
have looked upon this apparent neglect as a matter of 
course, and have attributed it to his own shortcomings, 
was a part of his nature and character. His fault 
as a leader lay in his readiness to stand aside on the 
least provocation, to over-estimate other men, and to 
doubt his own judgment and capacity for practical 
work. But those who from long experience had 
found him almost always right, even upon such ques- 
tions as the best method of conducting the business 
of manufacturing stout shoes by associated labour, 
were not unnaturally jealous of this want of appre- 
ciation, and impatient at this apparent indifference of 
his countrymen to the life's battle of one of their best 
and wisest. 

All such jealousies and doubts were indeed in great 
measure set at rest by the outburst last year from 
pulpits of all shades in the Church and of all the 
Nonconformist bodies, in periodicals and newspapers 
representing every political section and every class in 
the nation which followed the tidings of his death, 
It was a most remarkable and significant phenomenon, 
this voice, as it were, of a whole nation testifying, 
"Well done, good and faithful servant;" and a witness 
to the depth and penetrating nature of Mr. Maurice's 



spiritual influence. While rejoicing in so pregnant 
a proof that England can still recognize her prophets, 
at any rate when they are gone from her, one may 
be pardoned perhaps for a regret that one so sensitive 
to sympathy should never, while he lived, have known 
how much he was to the country he loved so deeply, 
and served so faithfully. 

But, through most of the testimony to the influence 
of his life and writings which was thus called forth, 
there still ran a singular misunderstanding of the man 
and his message. It was assumed in the critical part 
of most of these obituary notices, as a matter of fact 
which scarcely needed stating, that, with all his ear- 
nestness, learning, and knowledge, he was never a 
clear thinker ; and, by some intellectual fault, or short- 
coming, was either not able, or not courageous enough 
mentally (no one ever doubted his perfect moral 
courage) to follow out his own premises to their 
legitimate conclusions. To those to whom his memory 
must always remain amongst their most precious pos- 
sessions, and for whom he has scattered more mists 
and slain more hobgoblins than all his contemporaries 
put together, these accusations of incompleteness, want 
of clearness, mysticism, have their comic side. They 
might be well content to let them alone, leaving 
his works to speak for themselves, if they could only 


be sure that the persons addressed would go to those 
works. But as criticisms of this kind may hinder 
students, and above all young students, from going to 
the fountain head, and, as in their judgment it is of 
quite unspeakable importance, to England's religion 
and England's thought, that such students should do 
this, they cannot and ought not to keep silence. 

A casual expression in one of the ablest and most 
remarkable books published since his death on the 
subjects to which he was specially devoted, is a fair 
specimen of the tone which some of our foremost 
thinkers on such subjects have allowed themselves 
in speaking of him, and will serve as well as any to 
test the worth of such criticism, and the value of Mr. 
Maurice's teaching. In his " Literature and Dogma," 
Mr. Arnold speaks of Maurice as "that pure and 
devout spirit of whom, however, the truth must at 
last be said, that in theology he passed his life 
beating the bush with deep emotion, and never start- 
ing the hare." The criticism is, it will be seen, 
limited to Mr. Maurice's theology; but, as he was 
always careful to remind his readers and hearers 
that he " felt as a theologian, thought as a theologian, 
and wrote as a theologian ; " and, as in his last pub- 
lished work he again declares " all other subjects are 
to my mind connected with theology, and subordinate 


to it," the limitation is of no practical value. As a 
theologian, then, must he be judged; and if in his 
theology he is vague or timorous, or uses words in a 
non-natural sense, it is vain to defend him, and he 
would not have desired to be defended. Let us see, 
then, to what the criticism amounts, and what is 
the quarry which Mr. Maurice was in vain straining 
all his life to start, but which we presume Mr. Arnold 
supposes himself to have not only started but run 

Mr. Arnold gathers into six words his purpose in 
this remarkable book; "the thing," he says, "is to 
recast religion." Kecognizing the chaotic state of 
modern thought on the most momentous of all sub- 
jects, in the presence of the new forces of criticism 
and scientific discovery which are being brought to 
bear upon it, he asks, " is there a substratum, or veri- 
fiable basis," of truth which may be made plain to 
the humblest seeker, and upon which he may found 
himself and stand firmly " in the revolution which is 
befalling the religion in which he has been brought 
up ? " It is not necessary to follow the masterly state- 
ment, exposition, and argument by which Mr. Arnold 
arrives at his conclusion that such a verifiable basis 
exists for himself, or to anticipate what that basis is ; 
but let us note the positions of most value which he 


successively seizes as he marches triumphantly towards 
his goal, and makes sure ground not only under his 
own feet, but under those of the ordinary Englishman, 
bewildered by this " revolution befalling the religion 
in which he has been brought up." 

Mr. Arnold holds that the attempt to reduce Christi- 
anity to a philosophical system, a metaphysical con- 
ception, has brought our English people to the point of 
rejecting the Bible altogether; and that the "pseudo- 
science of dogmatic theology " which has resulted from 
that attempt must be destroyed if the Bible is to 
regain its power. The perplexed English student will 
get his first foothold here under Mr. Arnold's guid- 
ance; and will never again be troubled with the 
notion that a right knowledge of God depends on 
ability to reason accurately from terms such as " sub- 
stance," "identity," "causation," "design," &c. For 
Mr. Arnold's readers the " metaphysical apparatus," 
as he calls it, will probably have fallen to pieces 

Neither will they require further proof that the 
revelation contained in the Bible is not dependent 
on, and cannot be made " solidary " with, the evidence 
of miracles, or of the fulfilment of prophecy, or even 
v/ith the reports of Evangelists arid Apostles as to 
the words and deeds of their Master. 


More valuable still is Mr. Arnold's exposure of the 
false antithesis between "natural" and "revealed" 
religion, which has been current in England, at any 
rate since Butler's time. The difference between the 
two, he holds, is not one of kind, but only of degree ; 
the real antithesis, to " natural " and " revealed " alike, 
being "invented," "artificial." "A system of theo- 
logical notions about personality, essence, existence, 
consubstantiality, is artificial religion, and the proper 
opposite to ' revealed/ " 

Had these negative results been all that we get 
from Mr. Arnold's book, their value would have been 
very great, coming from such a quarter: but he not 
only clears the ground of large heaps of tangle and 
litter, but builds upon his clearance. " Conduct or 
righteousness is three-fourths or more of life," and is 
"a simple and easy matter so far as knowledge is 
concerned; the whole difficulty lying, not in seeing 
true and verifying what righteousness is, but in 
caring for and attending to it." The religion of Israel, 
as we have it in the Old Testament, is the declara- 
tion or revelation for all time of what righteousness 
is, and that God is the author of it : the religion of 
the New Testament reveals to us the method and 
secret by which alone righteousness is possible for 
men, that is to say, the "method of Jesus," or 

PREFACE. xiii 

inwardness and sincerity ; the " secret of Jesus," or 
" self-renunciation." Now, men will no longer accept 
as true what they cannot verify by experience; but, 
Mr. Arnold insists, thus much they have verified, 
thus much each man can verify for himself. "Try, 
and you will find it to be so," Mr. Arnold sums up ; 
" try all the ways to righteousness you can think of, 
and you will find that no way brings you to it except 
the way of Jesus ; but that this way does bring you 
to it. And, therefore, as we found we could say to 
the masses, 'Attempt to do without Israel's God, 
that makes for righteousness, and you will find out 
your mistake ! ' so we find we can now go on further, 
and say, ' Attempt to reach righteousness by any 
way except that of Jesus, and you will find out 
your mistake ! ' This is a thing that can prove 
itself if it is so ; and it will prove itself, because it 
is so." 

Of course it is not pretended for a moment that 
this is an exhaustive statement of the scope of 
" Literature and Dogma " (there are a number of 
other points brought out with exquisite clearness and 
keenness, such as the historical method of the Bible 
revelation; the one strain that runs through it all 
showing that " whoever of nations or men is ship- 
wrecked, is shipwrecked on conduct ; " that the faith 


which saves is attached to the saving . doctrines of 
the Bible, which are very simple, not to its literary 
and scientific criticism, which is very hard) but 
these are the main positions, apart from the central 
one. Borrowing his own phrase, we may call them 
" beatings of the bush," and very searching and able 
beatings they are, beatings which were clearly neces- 
sary before the religion in which we were brought 
up can be recast for a scientific and critical genera- 
tion. But then we must take leave to say, that 
everyone familiar with Mr. Maurice's works will have 
travelled the whole ground, over and over again. 
His first great work, " The Kingdom of Christ," was 
the strongest attack yet made on the attempts 
to squeeze Christianity into any system, and on the 
" logical apparatus " of one kind or another which 
have been used for this purpose; and in the last 
of his published works, the preface to his " Moral 
and Metaphysical Philosophy/' written within a year 
of his death, he recounts, for the last time, " how 
often I have been tempted to seek a home for my 
spirit in some particular opinion or system of opinions, 
and by what gracious influences I have been shown 
that the fine palace would have been a prison- 

Again, while Mr. Maurice's teaching as to miracles 


and prophecy is no doubt very different from Mr. 
Arnold's, it is at least as clear and emphatic in pro- 
testing against the theory that the revelation of the 
Bible must stand on the evidence of miracles, or the 
fulfilment of prophecy as commonly understood. 

The falseness of the antithesis between natural 
and revealed religion had been worked out years ago 
by Mr. Maurice, on parallel lines to Mr. Arnold's, 
but with greater fulness and clearness. All revela- 
tion or discovery, he had taught us, even of the 
law which is written in men's hearts (the "natural 
religion " of Butler), must be made by God to men, 
in their consciences. And so it is with all scientific 
discovery. This also is a discovery or unveiling to 
a man of that which is ; which was not called into 
being by him ; of which he is in no sense the author. 
It was always there. He has been show r n that it 
was always there. He can only tell the world some- 
thing which has been hidden from it, and which it 
was intended to know. 

And so with respect to the historical method of 
the Biblical revelation, how, step by step, a man, a 
family, a nation, all nations, are educated into ac- 
knowledgment and worship of righteousness (which, 
however, Mr. Maurice calls " the living God," as the 
Old Testament writers do); how the only way to 

xv i PEEFACE. 

righteousness is through the "method" and "secret" 
of Jesus; how each man may verify this for him- 
self; how easy the knowledge, how hard the practice, 
of righteousness is ; all these are commonplaces in 
Mr. Maurice's teaching. So that, without detracting 
the least from Mr. Arnold, while acknowledging and 
feeling grateful for the exquisite clearness, the varied 
learning, and the rare courage he has brought to 
bear on the great theme he has set himself, one 
must protest against the tone of his comment on 
one who had already travelled the same paths, and 
taken many with him. 

But, as has been already said, these are only the 
beatings of the bush ; we have not yet reached the 
centre, the cardinal point in such a discussion. No 
one puts this more strongly than Mr. Arnold. "The 
whole pinch of the matter is here," he says : " and 
till we are agreed as to what we mean by God, we 
can never, in discussing religious questions, under- 
stand one another or discuss seriously." And so Mr. 
Arnold spares no pains to make us see precisely 
what he means by God. Still maintaining the value 
as a scientific definition of his former saying that 
God is " simply the stream of tendency by which all 
things fulfil the law of their being," he admits its 
inadequacy for the purposes of the deeper inquiry. 

PREFACE. xvii 

Then, after suggesting, by the way, that we use the 
word God merely as " a deeply-moved way of saying 
conduct or righteousness," he takes his stand on the 
formula, " God is the power, not ourselves, which 
works for righteousness." Now no one would have 
been more ready than Mr. Maurice to admit the 
truth of this, so far as it goes. But will not revela- 
tion carry us further ? Does not Mr. Arnold himself 
imply that it will, when he says, " So far we know 
God that He is the Eternal who loveth righteousness, 
and the further we go in righteousness the more we 
shall know Him"? 

Surely it must be so. But it scarcely appears 
from his work how far Mr. Arnold is conscious of 
the difficulties which he himself has left his readers 
in, by stopping where he does. The first question 
that forces itself on them must be, But, after all, 
what of Christ ? Does Mr. Arnold hold Him to be 
one with " the power, not ourselves, which works for 
righteousness " ? Sometimes we think he does, as 
when he says, "The kingdom of the Eternal the 
world is already become, by its chief nations pro- 
fessing the religion of righteousness. The kingdom 
of Christ the world will have to become, is on its 
way to become, because the profession of righteous- 
ness, except as Christ interpreted righteousness, is 

xviii PEEFACE. 

vain ; " or again, " God's evidence for His Son is 
this, that God hath given to us eternal life, and 
this life is in His son. That is, in righteousness 
we have the sense of being truly alive, and through 
the method and secret and sweet reasonableness of 
Jesus, and only through these, we get at righteous- 
ness." At other times all is misty and vague, and 
the sense in which Christ is the Son of God, for 
Mr. Arnold, appears to be that in which every man 
who follows righteousness becomes also the son of 

The same kind of difficulty must be raised in the 
mind of the humblest reader by Mr. Arnold's dealing 
with the Spirit of God. Forgetting his usual epieikeia, 
or sweet reasonableness, he speaks of the popular 
doctrine of the Trinity in a way which must have 
given deep pain to many good Christians. But what 
deliverance does he offer himself from the belief he 
satirizes so cruelly? First, he tells us, we must re- 
translate the word Tn/eu/xa, and speak of the " holy 
influence." The disciples would find, Jesus tells 
them, " a new power come to their help after He 
left them, a power of insight such as they had never 
had before," but " which came from God, as Jesus 
did" and " said nothing of itself, but only what 
God said, or Jesus said ; a Paraclete, or reinforcement 


working in aid of God and Jesus, even the spirit 
of Truth." But is this Spirit, then, one with God, 
with " the power not themselves " ? Again, Mr. Arnold 
gives them no help, but rather puzzles them further 
by calling the " paraclete " in another place the 
" intuition of reality " in yourself ; in a third place, 
"the muse of righteousness," contrasting it with 
" the muse of art or science," which visited Hesiod 
when he was tending his sheep on the side of 
Helicon, and which, according to Mr. Arnold, was 
dn " equally real " influence, equally also " a spirit 
of Truth." 

And now let us turn to Mr. Maurice, of whose 
theology Mr. Arnold speaks in such pitying, almost 
contemptuous, tones. He, at any rate, has never 
avoided the real " pinch of the matter," has indeed 
urged, during a long life, with never-tiring insist- 
ance, that we must at our peril know what we 
mean by God. He has also made, as clear as words 
can make it, what he means. God, for Mr. Maurice, 
is a perfectly loving Father, who has revealed Himself 
in this character, and is speaking to men by a Son. 
That Son has been made flesh, has taken men's 
nature, has dwelt among them, and " in Him is the 
light of men." His Spirit is in men, speaking to 
the conscience of each, teaching them how they may 


be one with Him (namely, through His method, His 
secret, and sweet reasonableness, as Mr. Arnold would 
say). This Spirit will guide them into all truth ; is 
the same Spirit who reveals artistic and scientific, 
as well as religious truth to them irreligious truth 
Mr. Maurice did not recognize ; is the Spirit who 
is leading them to search for Him in the laws 
of His universe ; is the " Muse " of Hesiod, the 
" daemon " of Socrates. 

Now this belief is at any rate as clear of "meta- 
physical apparatus " as Mr. Arnold's own. Is it noli 
also infinitely clearer and simpler in itself? Does 
it leave us in any of those mists as to the Son of 
God, and the Spirit of God, which Mr. Arnold raises 
but entirely fails to dissipate ? 

One can understand enlightened teachers of our 
day, to whom the very name of Christian has become 
an offence, turning aside from such a belief in annoy- 
ance and anger as indeed so many of them have 
done when they recognize in it simply the old 
creed, which every child in Christendom has been 
repeating these eighteen hundred years; but that 
any one of them who really takes the pains to 
read Mr. Maurice can maintain that the belief itself 
does not stand out on the face of all his writings, in 
white light, as plain as words can make it, is less easy 


to understand. The only explanation (if they have 
read him) would seem to be that they cannot take 
his words in their plain natural sense, or believe that 
one, whom they cannot help acknowledging to be as 
familiar with all the philosophical systems of the 
world, and as thorough a master of all their shibbo- 
leths as themselves, can be really meaning what he 
seems to say, when he says this. 

Valuable as "Literature and Dogma" will prove 
to many of his countrymen, the author may assure 
himself that no one who has learnt from Mr. Maurice 
will ever be able to think of, or believe in, righteous- 
ness without a righteous Being (or Person, if Mr. 
Arnold will allow us to use a word which offends 
him more than any other in the " metaphysical appa- 
ratus"), will ever be able to think of, or believe in, 
Providence or foresight, without One who provides, 
or foresees. But they will rejoice, as their master 
would have done, to see so cultivated a thinker as 
Mr. Arnold bravely and earnestly contending for 
righteousness, and for the "method," "secret/' and 
"sweet reasonableness," of Christ, though unable to 
accept what are to them the necessary conclusions 
from his own premises. 

And now let us turn for a moment to the apostles 

of our other modern Gospels, who have, in like manner, 


xxii PEEFACE. 

cast pitying or angry words at Mr. Maurice and his 
theology, or have misunderstood and misstated it in 
ways which have pained him, while living, more than 
any abuse would have done. 

We are asked by one clever school to write humanity 
with a big H, and then to fall down and worship it. 
This, knowing what we ourselves are, and seeing 
what the remaining items who make up mankind 
in our time are about, we must decline to do. But, 
learning from Mr. Maurice, we can worship with 
our whole hearts, a perfect man, whom we have 
come to know not only as made in the image of, 
but as one with, God; and through whom we can 
recognize and reverence the humanity in every man. 

His own reply to an otherwise friendly reviewer 
of this school cannot, at any rate, be reckoned amongst 
sayings hard to understand. " He affirms," wrote Mr. 
Maurice, "that I have rendered into a theological 
dialect the conceptions of humanity which prevail in 
our age. I have affirmed that those conceptions of 
humanity, when separated from the old foundation, 
which is simply, broadly, satisfactorily announced in 
the formularies that are repeated by children and 
peasants in all parts of Christendom, are narrow, im- 
practical, inhuman." (Preface to "Social Morality," 
p. xiv.) 

PEEFACE. xxiii 

Mr. Morley, representing, I suppose, another school of 
the most advanced thinkers, denounced Mr. Maurice's 
Lectures on the Conscience, as outraging I know not 
what systems of philosophy, and lying entirely outside 
all orthodox methods of thought on such subjects. 
Those who have learnt from him to ask themselves 
what they mean by " I," and have found his method 
stand every test to which they can put it, will not 
be troubled about systems of philosophy, any more 
than Mr. Arnold is, or than Moliere's servant-girl was 
troubled about the laws of carte and tierce. They 
have come to see that neither Butler nor Paley, nor 
any other philosopher, Christian or heathen, invented 
the questions about a conscience, or can set them to 
rest. " They do not exist," as Mr. Maurice says, " in 
a Volume of Sermons at the Rolls, or of Lectures on 
Moral Philosophy. If you have not a conscience, 
Butler will not give it you. If you have one, Paley 
cannot take it away. They can only, between them, 
set you on considering what it is, and what it is 

On another side " the Revolution," writ also with a 
big R, is held up to us as the only object of faith for 
intelligent persons in the times we live in. We glory 
in our own time, with all its searchings, distresses, 
perplexities, as much as they; but prefer, with Mr, 

xxiv PREFACE. 

Maurice, to recognize, through and in them all, One 
who is working out the redemption of the time, 
and unveiling Himself to our age as He did to our 
fathers' age, through these throes and strivings of 
the nations. 

We are advised on another side to believe in a 
God who has made the world for "a prudent, steady, 
hardy, enduring race of men, who are neither fools 
nor cowards, and who have no particular love for 
those who are," and are told that the business of 
religion is, to threaten or bribe the fools and cowards. 
The chief preacher of this Gospel is another of our 
instructors to whom Mr. Maurice's theology has been 
a sore stumbling-block. But we should doubt whether 
any wayfarer, conscious that the religion in which 
he has been brought up wants recasting, will care 
to exchange for this " Calvinism minus Christianity," 
as it has been well called, Mr. Maurice's teaching, 
that all prudence, steadiness, hardiness, endurance, 
are the good gifts to His children of a God of Love, 
without whom we all, including the author in question, 
should have been fools and cowards even as these 

But of all modern schools of thought, the purely 
scientific, represented by Mr. Darwin (who, I believe, 
returned fully the warm admiration which Mr. Maurice 


felt for him) has most troubled the minds of simple 
English Christians. A passage or two from Mr. 
Maurice's writings may, perhaps, lead any such who 
may read this book to take courage, and look the 
" Origin of Species " squarely in the face at any 
rate it will show them that he could do so : 

"It has been our wont to speak of man as formed 
in the image of God, and yet as made out of the 
dust of the earth. I think those who have used 
the words have been aware if not at the same 
moment, yet at certain moments of their lives 
of both the facts to which the words point, and 
have been trying to learn how they are compat- 
ible " 

" I have myself little hope that we shall become 
fully aware of our relation to One who is above 
us, if from any cowardly self-glorification we shrink 
from confessing these baser affinities. The more 
thoroughly we accept the facts which attest our 
humiliation, the more overwhelming will be the force 
of the facts which attest the glory of our human 
parentage. If Mr. Darwin has added new strength 
to the one kind of evidence whether he has or 
not, as I told you before, I have no right to affirm, 
or even to guess I can have no doubt whence the 
discoveries have come, or by whom that search has 

xxvi PREFACE. 

been prompted. I perceive that in his last book he 
speaks with much reverence of the moral elevation 
which the belief of a one omnipotent ruler of the 
universe is likely to produce in those who cherish 
it. I am afraid that in me such a belief would 
cause more depression than elevation. Mere omni- 
potence is crushing. Whereas anyone whose heart 
confesses that every step in the apprehension of 
nature or man, or the archetype of man, is due to 
the education of a loving parent, must be sure that 
no diligence, such as that of Mr. Darwin, in studying 
the meanest insect or flower, can be wasted ; but will 
also be sure that the processes in the student himself 
the springs of his zeal and patience must have 
a far deeper interest, must carry us into another 
region altogether." 

" The Newtonian doctrine, with which Mr. Huxley 
teaches us to compare the Darwinian, was a wonderful 
blessing to man, inasmuch as it shook the notion that 
the planet which contained what most concerned them 
was the centre of the universe. The moral results of 
that shaking, and of the belief which followed it, have 
been invaluable. I do not think we have yet more 
than begun to take account of them. But there 
was this disadvantage accompanying the blessing, 
one which has often led the student of humanity to 

PREFACE. xxvii 

undervalue it. When the earth took its subordinate 
position in the universe, it seemed as if man too 
had been degraded. We began to talk affectedly 
and dishonestly of ourselves as 'mere atoms in the 
infinite regions of space,' whilst each man knew 
that he did not count himself an atom at all ; that 
he did not reckon sun or stars at a higher rate 
than his own personal being. Great contradictions, 
enormous fallacies, were engendered by this mode of 
speaking and thinking. It seems to me that the 
students of physics are themselves to supply the 
counteraction to them. Let them say what they will 
about the origin of man, it is about his origin that 
all their faculties are chiefly exercised. Whatever 
may have been his starting point, here he is. Show 
what atoms he comes from, if you will, and if you 
can; let any creature you like have been his pro- 
genitor, still the diapason closes full on him. More 
than ever it becomes necessary to look into his actual 
history ; out of whatever egg he has issued, we must 
try to acquaint ourselves, not so much with the 
process of his incubation, as with the kind of creature 
he has become since the shell was broken, and he 
has acquired a distinct existence." 

Is there any want of clearness here ? Are these 
the words of one whose meaning is not plain to 

xxviii PEEFACE. 

himself, or who has any difficulty in expressing 

If the "religion in which we have been brought 
up " wants recasting, as no doubt in some sense it 
does, let us first look fairly at what has been done 
in this direction. A man has been amongst us whose 
work in life was precisely this. And while his 
writings have exercised an enormous influence on 
theological thought, his life has been even a greater 
witness for the truth which he taught ; that life of 
one " sorrowful, yet always rejoicing ; " " poor, yet 
making many rich ; " " having nothing, and yet pos- 
sessing all things." 

Those who have lived and worked with him, cannot 
but have learnt to know and feel something of the 
power which transforms men if they will only let it. 
" He was in those early days, as always," writes one 
of his oldest friends, speaking of him when he was 
chaplain of Guy's, "the strongest man I have ever 
known, if it be strength to do steadily to the end 
the work which is set before a man, undeterred by 
any doubts or difficulties, however great and many. 
Yet I am sure he would have said and I believe it 
was true that the strength was not his own, but that 
of a Higher will than his own working through his 
weakness. It was the strength, not of self-assertion, 

PREFACE. xxix 

but of self-surrender ; the strength of Paul and Christ. 
It was the consciousness of the prophet and the 
Apostle, that he was called to a work which he ac- 
cepted as the business of his life, but which he could 
only do by a strength greater than his own. It has 
been well said that no words can more exactly describe 
the mission of Maurice than those of St. John 'a 
man sent from God the same came to bear witness 
of the light.' With all his humility, with all his con- 
sciousness of his weakness for the work, he never 
doubted that he was sent from God to bear witness of 
the Light. Here he was strong, and the source of 
strength to others. To how many of us has that 
saintly life and presence borne witness to the Light, 
even when we were unable to see it for ourselves ! " 

It is in the hope of bringing this life and teaching 
to bear on many who have only known Mr. Maurice 
at second-hand, and only think of him as a theologian 
and a mystic, whom it is waste of time to endeavour 
to understand, that the present collection of his ad- 
dresses is published. They are taken as samples, 
almost at hazard, from a vast number which he de- 
livered in all parts of the country, to all kinds of 
audiences. While they illustrate how completely his 
theology underlay all his thoughts, they will show how 
fresh and vigorous, above all how intensely national 


and human, that theology is; how it enables him, 
always using the same method, to put men and periods 
before us with a distinctness, a vividness, and a sym- 
pathy which few writers have ever equalled. Any one 
of the addresses will serve to illustrate this method. 
Take, for instance, the one " On Words," and see how 
entirely he does justice to the work of Johnson and 
of Home Tooke, how heartily he recognizes the worth 
of what each of them was asserting, while he brings 
out the deeper truth which lies behind, that words 
are not mere counters, but living powers, which grow 
and change and decay with the growth and decay of 
the men and nations who use them. And so with 
all men and sects and parties who have exercised 
any real influence in the world. His intense sym- 
pathy enables him to see clearly the truth which each 
was asserting, to rejoice in the strength of that asser- 
tion, to maintain that that assertion was not and could 
not be made too strongly, and at the same time, with 
equal clearness and power, to mark where they become 
deniers of the truth which others are asserting, and 
begin to assume that their own side of the truth is 
the whole. 

But it is unnecessary further to dwell on what will 
soon make itself plain to every intelligent reader ; and 
one can only hope that some of these, when they have 

PREFACE. xxxi 

come to feel how keen and deep Mr. Maurice's insight 
is how firmly he can seize on and handle literary, 
political, and social questions how in a few sentences 
he sheds light on men and things, showing us, as it 
were with a flash, the clue which we may perhaps 
have been groping for through weary years will take 
courage, and make trial of the same guidance (despite 
of Mr. Arnold, and other preachers of new religions 
and no religions) in that deepest of all studies, which 
the times in which they live will not suffer any man 
who means to do his work honestly in the world, 
to neglect or thrust aside. 


P.S. Since the above Preface was written, Mr. 
Mill's autobiography has been published. Among 
other contemporaries with whom he came in contact 
during his remarkable intellectual life, he names and 
gives with characteristic candour and fairness an esti- 
mate of Frederick Maurice. In appreciation of mere 
intellect, probably few men's judgments could be better 
worth considering. He thus speaks : " I have so deep 
a respect for Maurice's character and purposes, as well 
as for his great mental gifts, that it is with some un- 
willingness I say anything which may seem to place 
him on a less high eminence than I would gladly be 

xxxii PEEFACE. 

able to accord to him. But I have always thought 
that there was more intellectual power wasted in 
Maurice than in any other of my contemporaries. 
Few of them certainly have had so much to waste. 
Great powers of generalization, rare ingenuity and 
subtlety, and a wide perception of important and un- 
obvious truths, served him not for putting something 
better into the place of the worthless heap of received 
opinions on the great subjects of though t, but for 
proving to his own mind that the Church of England 
had known everything from the first, and that all the 
truths on the ground of which the Church and Ortho- 
doxy have been attacked (many of which he saw as 
clearly as anyone), are not only consistent with the 
Thirty-nine Articles, but are better understood and 
expressed in these Articles than by anyone who re- 
jects them." 

This testimony, given by an able and candid man, 
eminent above most in the exercise of the intellect, 
to Mr. Maurice's intellectual eminence, is not the 
only or the main reason for quoting the passage 
here. It is surely worth considering whether the 
method in which Mr. Maurice used his intellect, so 
strongly condemned by Mr. Mill, is not substantially 
the same method whereby the doctrine of Evolution 
in the physical world has been maintained by modern 

PEE FACE. xxxiii 

philosophers, but applied by Mr. Maurice to theo- 
logical and ethical, not merely to physical matters. 
If Mr. Maurice, in examining the " heap of received 
opinions," which might better surely be designated 
the mass of deep convictions whereby Englishmen 
and men of other nations had been enabled to live 
righteous and noble lives, sought to sever what was 
worthy from what was worthless, can that be called 
waste of high mental gifts ? 

Besides, it is not true that Mr. Maurice ever wrote 
anything to justify the representation here given. 
Mr. Mill had probably in his mind a pamphlet 
published in 1835, while Mr. Maurice was a young 
Oxford graduate " Subscription no Bondage," which 
was a defence of the Articles as guides to thought, 
not as mere dogmatic formulse hampering the con- 
science. Even this pamphlet, whether successful or 
not in its aim, does not justify the phrase, that Mr. 
Maurice held " that the Church of England had 
known everything from the first." But readers of 
"The Kingdom of Christ" or "The Religions of the 
World " will know how far this is from being an 
accurate account of how Mr. Maurice used his " great 
mental gifts," and whether they really were " wasted." 
It has been noticed already how he received Mr. 
Darwin's theory. The habit of mind that led him 

xxxiv PREFACE. 

to trace a unity and progress in theological and 
ethical thought among men and churches, prepared 
him to accept and recognize the same law in natural 
things. If Mr. Mill had studied and followed up, in 
his own way, the method of Mr. Maurice in these 
respects, it might not have fallen to him to have 
written probably one of the saddest passages ever 
penned, where finality, not in cause but in result, 
faces him as a possibility, driving him to despair, 
from which his account of his deliverance scarcely 
seems satisfactory the opening of the fifth chapter 
of his autobiography. Other students may hereafter 
learn that some of the " unobvious truths " which 
Mr. Maurice's mental gifts enabled him to discover 
are worth their attention. 








ON BOOKS, , . 60 








xxxvi CONTENTS. 





MILTON, 242 











I HAVE proposed to speak to you this evening on the 
Friendship of Books. I have some fear that an age of 
reading is not always favourable to the cultivation of 
this friendship. I do not mean that we are in any 
special danger of looking upon them as enemies. 
That is no doubt the temptation of some persons. I 
have known both boys and men who have looked at 
books with a kind of rage and hatred, as if they were 
the natural foes of the human species. I am far from 
thinking that these were bad boys or bad men ; nor 
were they stupid. Some of them I have found very 
intelligent, and have learnt much from them. I could 
trace the dislike in some cases to a cause which I 
thought honourable. The dogs and horses which they 
did care about, and were always on good terms with, 
they regarded as living creatures, who could receive 

1 Delivered first at Ellesmere, at the request of Archdeacon Allen, 
in the autumn of 1856 ; afterwards at Harrow. 



affection, and in some measure could return it. Their 
horses could carry them over hills and moors; their 
dogs had been out with them from morning till night, 
and took interest in the pursuit that was interesting 
them. Books seemed to them dead things in stiff 
bindings, that might be patted and caressed ever so 
much and would take no notice, that knew nothing of 
toil or pleasure, of hill or stubble-field, of sunrise or 
sunsetting, of the earnest chase or the feast after it. 
Was it not better to leave them in the shelves which 
seemed to be made for them ? Was it not treating 
them most respectfully not to finger or soil them, but 
to secure the services of a housemaid who should 
occasionally dust them ? 

I frankly own that I have great sympathy with these 
feelings, and with those who entertain them. If books 
are only dead things, if they do not speak to one, or 
answer one when one speaks to them, if they have 
nothing to do with the common things that we are 
busy with with the sky over our head, and the ground 
under our feet I think that they had better stay on 
the shelves; I think any horse or dog, or tree or flower, 
is a better companion for human beings than they are. 
And therefore I say again, it is not with those who 
count them enemies that I find fault. They have 
much to say for themselves; if their premises are right 
they are right in their conclusions. What I regret is 
that many of us spend much of our time in reading 
books, and in talking of books that we like nothing 
worse than the reputation of being indifferent to them, 


and nothing better than the reputation of knowing a 
great deal about them ; and yet that, after all, we do 
not know them in the same way as we know our fellow- 
creatures, not even in the way we know any dumb 
animal that we walk with or play with. This is a 
great misfortune, in my opinion, and one which I am 
afraid is increasing as what we call "the taste for 
literature" increases. I cannot enter into all the 
different reasons which lead me to think so, nor can 
I trace the evil to its source. But I will mention one 
characteristic of the reading in our times, which must 
have much to do with it. 

A large part of our reading is given to Reviews, and 
Magazines, and Newspapers. Now I am certain that 
these must have a very important use. We should all 
of us be trying to find out what the use of them is, 
because it is clear that we are born into an age in 
which they exercise great power ; and that fact must 
bring a great responsibility, not only upon those who 
wield the power, but upon us who have to see that it 
does us good, and not hurt. But whatever good effects 
works of this kind may have produced, we certainly 
are not able to make them our friends. Perhaps you 
will wonder that I should say that a newspaper or a 
review is a much less awful thing than a quarto or a 
folio I mean of course to those who are not going 
themselves to be cut up in it, but only to have the 
pleasure of seeing their friends and neighbours cut up. 
Moreover the writer of the newspaper or magazine, 01 
review, commonly assumes an off-hand, dashing air. 


He has a number of colloquial phrases, and stock jests, 
which seem intended to put us at our ease. He 
speaks in a loud, rattling tone, like one who wishes to 
shake hands the first time you meet him. But then, 
when you stretch out your hand, what is it you meet ? 
Not that of a man, but of a shadow, of something that 
calls itself " We." Be friends with a "We " ! How is 
that possible ? If the mist is scattered, if we discover 
that there is an actual human being there, then the 
case is altered altogether. If Lord Jeffrey, or Mr. 
Macaulay, or Sir James Stephen, publishes articles 
which he has written in a Review, with his name 
affixd to them, or if a " Times Correspondent " whom, 
in our superstition, we had supposed to be one of the 
fairies or genii that descend from some other world 
to our planet, appears with an ordinary name, and 
dressed like a mortal, why, then we feel we are on fair 
terms. A person is presenting himself to us, one who 
may have a right to judge us, but who is willing to be 
tried himself by his peers. That, you see, is because 
the We has become an /. All his apparent dignity is 
dissolved ; we can recognize him as a fellow-creature. 

Now, I do not say this the least in condemnation of 
Reviewers, or of any person who for any reasons what- 
ever thinks it better to call himself We than /. I 
only say that there is no friendship under such con- 
ditions as this ; that we never can make any book our 
friend until we look upon it as the work of an I. It 
is the principle which I hope to maintain throughout 
this lecture, and therefore I begin with stating it at 


once. I want to speak to you about a few books 
which exhibit very transparently, I think, what sort 
of a person he was who wrote them, which show him 
to us. I think we shall find that there is the charm of 
the book, the worth of the book. He may be writing 
about a great many things ; but there is a man who 
writes ; and when you get acquainted with that man, 
you get acquainted with the book. It is no more a 
collection of letters and leaves ; it is a friend. 

I mean to speak entirely, or almost entirely, of 
English books. And I shall begin with a writer who 
seems to offer a great exception to the remark I have 
just made. If I thought he was really an exception, I 
should be much puzzled, or rather I should give up 
my position altogether. For, since he is the greatest 
and the best known of all English authors, for him to 
be an instance against me would be a clear proof that 
I was wrong. We continually hear this observation, 
" William Shakespeare is not to be found in any of his 
plays." It is his great and wonderful distinction that 
he is not. Othello speaks his word, Hamlet his, 
Bottom the Weaver his ; Desdemona, Imogen, Portia, 
each her word. But Shakespeare does not intrude 
himself into any of their places ; he does not want us 
to know what he thought about this matter or that. 
If you look into one corner or another for him, he is 
not there. It would appear, then, according to my 
maxim, as if Shakespeare could never be his reader's 
friend. It would appear as if he were the great 
precedent for all newspaper writers and reviewers, as 


if he were overlooking mankind just as they do, and 
had the best possible right to describe himself as a 
We, and not as an I. 

Well, that sounds very plausible, and, like every- 
thing that sounds plausible, there is a truth at the 
bottom of it. But that the truth is not this, I think 
the feeling and judgment of the people of England (I 
might say of the continents of Europe and of America) 
might convince you, without any arguments of mine. 
For they have been so sure that there was a William 
Shakespeare, they were so certain that he had a local 
habitation and a name, that they have rummaged 
parish registers, hunted Doctors' Commons for wills, 
made pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon, put together 
traditions about old houses and shops, that they might 
make, if possible, some clear image of him in their 
minds. I do not know that they have succeeded very 
well. The facts of his biography are few. A good 
deal of imagination has been needed to put them 
together, and to fill up the blanks in them. I do not 
suppose registers, or wills, or old houses, will give 
many more answers concerning him. But that only 
shows, I think, how very clear a witness his own 
works give, even when the outward information is 
ever so scanty, of the man that he was, and of the 
characteristics which distinguished him from his fel- 
lows. If you ask me how I reconcile this assertion 
with the undoubted fact that he does not put himself 
forward as other dramatists do, and give his own 
opinions instead of allowing the persons of his drama 


to utter theirs, I should answer, Have you found that 
the man who is in the greatest hurry to tell you all 
that he thinks about all possible things, is the friend 
that is best worth knowing? Have you found that 
the one who talked most about himself and his own 
doings is the most worth knowing ? Do you not 
generally become rather exhausted with men of his 
kind ? Do not you say sometimes, in Shakespeare's 
own words, or rather in Falstaff's, " I do see to the 
bottom of this same Justice Shallow ; he has told me 
all he has to tell. There is no reserve in him, nothing 
that is worth searching after " ? On the other hand, 
have you not met with some men who very rarely 
spoke about their own impressions and thoughts, who 
seldom laid down the law, and yet who you were sure 
had a fund of wisdom within, and who made you 
partakers of it by the light which they threw on the 
earth in which they were dwelling, especially by the 
kindly, humorous, pathetic way in which they in- 
terested you about your fellow -men, and made you 
acquainted with them ? I do not say that this is the 
only class of friends which one would wish for. One 
likes to have some who in quiet moments are more 
directly communicative about their own sufferings 
and struggles. But certainly you would not say that 
men of the other class are not very pleasant, and 
very profitable. Of this class Shakespeare is the most 
remarkable specimen Instead of being a Reviewer 
who sits above the universe, and applies his own 
narrow rules to the members of it, he throws himself 


with the heartiest and most genial sympathy into the 
feelings of all, he understands their position and cir- 
cumstances, he perceives how each must have been 
affected by them. Instead of being a big, imaginary 
We, he is so much of a man himself that he can enter 
into the manhood of people who are the farthest off 
from him, and with whom he has the least to do. 
And so, I believe, his books may become most valuable 
friends to us to us especially who ought to be 
acquainted with what is going on with all kinds of 
people. Every now and then, I think (especially 
perhaps in the characters of Hamlet and of Prospero), 
one discovers signs how Shakespeare as an individual 
man had fought and suffered. I quite admit, however, 
that his main work is not to do this, but to help us in 
knowing ourselves the past history of our land, the 
people we are continually meeting. And any book 
that does this is surely a friend. 

Before I leave Shakespeare, I would speak of the 
way in which he made friends with books. Perhaps 
I can do it best by comparing his use of them with 
the use which was made of them by a very clever 
and accomplished contemporary of his. Ben Jonson, 
though he was the son of a bricklayer, made himself 
a thoroughly good Latin and Greek scholar. He read 
the best Latin books, and the commentaries which 
illustrated them ; he wrote two plays on subjects 
taken from Roman history. Very striking subjects 
they were. The hero of one was Catiline, who tried 
to overthrow the social order of the Republic; the 


hero of the other was Sejanus, who represents, by his 
grandeur and his fall, the very character and spirit of 
the Empire in the days of Tiberius. In dealing with 
these subjects, Ben Jon son had the help of two of the 
greatest Roman authors, both of them possessing re- 
markable powers of narration; one of them a man 
of earnest character, subtle insight, deep reflection. 
Though few men in his day understood these authors, 
and the government and circumstances of Rome, better 
than Jonson. Though he was a skilful and expe- 
rienced play-writer, most readers are glad when they 
have got Catiline and Sejanus fairly done with. They 
do not find that they have received any distinct 
impressions from them of Roman life ; to learn what it 
was they must go to the authors whom he has copied. 
Shakespeare wrote three plays on Roman subjects, 
Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra. He 
knew very little of Latin, and the materials he had 
to work with were a tolerable translation of Livy's 
History, and a capital one of Plutarch's Lives. With 
no aid but these, and his knowledge of Warwickshire 
peasants, and London citizens, he has taught us more 
of Romans he has made us more at home in their 
city, and at their fireside, than the best historians who 
lived upon the soil are able to do. Jonson studied 
their books ; Shakespeare made friends of them. He 
did just the same with our old Chronicles. He read 
of King John, of Richard II., of John of Gaunt, of 
Harry of Lancaster, of Hotspur and Owen Glendower, 
of the good Humphrey of Gloucester and the dark 


Cardinal Beaufort, of Wolsey and of Catherine. He 
read of them, and they stood up before him, real armed 
men, or graceful sorrowing women. Instead of being 
dead letters they all became living persons ; not ap- 
pearing in solitary grandeur, but forming groups ; not 
each with a fixed immoveable nature, but acted upon 
and educated by all the circumstances of their times ; 
not dwelling in an imaginary world, but warmed by 
the sun of Italy, or pinched by the chilly nights of 
Denmark essentially men such as are to be found in 
all countries and in all ages, and therefore exhibiting 
all the varieties of temperament and constitution 
which belong to each age, and to each country. 

Shakespeare's mind was formed in an age when men 
were at work, and when they wanted books to explain 
and illustrate their work. He lived on into another, 
when men began to value books for their own sakes. 
James I., who was called a Solomon (and who would 
have deserved that name if Solomon had not considered 
that his wisdom was given him that he might rule his 
subjects well, and if James had not supposed that his 
was given for every purpose except that), was the 
great promoter of this worship of books. But they 
did not speak to Englishmen of that which was going 
on around them, as they had done in Elizabeth's time. 
Learned people drew a line about themselves, and 
signified to common people who had business that 
they must keep their distance. Still there were many 
influences which counteracted this tendency. One 
man, who was not free from it by any means, helped 


to check it by opening to his fellows a new and real 
world. Lord Bacon found that they knew the secrets 
of Nature only through books, that they did not come 
freely and directly into contact with them ; he showed 
them how they might converse with the things they 
saw, how they might know them as they were in 
themselves, instead of only seeing them distorted by 
their spectacles. That was a great work to do; and 
as I said, it was never more wanted than just at this 
time, when men were in danger of falling so much in 
love with the letters in books, as to forget into what a 
universe of mysteries God had put His creature man, 
that he might search them out. Bacon reverenced 
the study of Nature more than he did the study of 
Man; and no wonder! For he found out what a 
beautiful order there was in Nature; and though I 
believe he looked for an order in human affairs too, 
and sometimes discerned, and always wished for it, yet 
there is no denying that he had a keen eye for the 
disorders and wrong-doings of his fellow-men, and 
that he rather reconciled himself to them than sought 
to remedy them. I refer to him, because I fancy 
that many have a notion of his books on the Inter- 
pretation of Nature as very valuable for scientific 
men, and his books on Morals and Politics as very 
wise for statesmen and men of the world, but not as 
friends. They form this notion because they suppose, 
that the more we know of Bacon himself, the less 
sympathy we should have with him. I should be 
sorry to hold this opinion, because I owe him immense 


gratitude ; and I could not cherish it if I thought of 
him, even as the sagest of book-makers and not as a 
human being. I should be sorry to hold it, because if 
I did not find in him a man who deserved reverence 
and love, I should not feel either the indignation or 
the sorrow which I desire to feel for his misdoings. 
Niebuhr said of Cicero that he knew his faults as well 
as anybody, but that he felt as much grieved when 
people spoke of them as if he were his brother. That 
is the right way to feel about great men who are 
departed, and I do not think that an Englishman 
should feel otherwise about Bacon. It is hard to 
measure the exact criminality of his acts ; one of the 
truest sentences ever passed on them was his own. 
His words are faithful transcripts of both his strength 
and weakness. There are some, especially of his dedi- 
cations, which one cannot read without a sense of 
burning shame; there are passages in the very 
treatises which those dedications introduce that it 
does one's heart good to remember, and which we are 
inwardly sure must have come from the heart of him 
who put them into language. He does not give us 
at all the genial impressions of other men which 
Shakespeare gives, but he detects very shrewd tricks 
which we practise upon ourselves. His worldly wis- 
dom is what we have most to dread, lest he should 
make us contented with the wrong in ourselves, and 
in the society about us, and should teach us to admire 
low models. But if we apply to our moral pursuits 
the zeal for truth, and the method of seeking it and of 


escaping from our own conceits, which he imparts to us 
in his physical lessons, if we consider his own errors, 
and his punishment for tolerating and embracing the 
base maxims of his time, we shall find him all the safer 
as a guide because we have felt with him as a friend. 
When we do that we can always appeal from the man 
to himself; we can say : " Thank you heartily for what 
you have said to me ; but there were clouds about you 
when you were here ; you did not always walk with 
straight feet, and with your eyes turned to the light. 
Now you know better, and I will make use of what 
you tell me, as well as all that I can learn about your 
doings, as warnings to keep me from wandering to the 
right or to the left." 

I might speak of other books in this bookish time 
of James L, which many of us have found valuable 
and genial friends; as, for instance the poems of 
George Herbert, which nobody that ever reads them 
can think of merely as poems ; they are so completely 
the utterances of the heart of an affectionate, faithful, 
earnest man, they speak so directly to whatever is best 
in ourselves, and give us such friendly and kindly 
admonitions about what is worst. But I must go on 
to the next period, which was a period of action and 
strife, when men could no more regard writing books, 
or even reading them, as an amusement; when the 
past must be studied for the sake of the present, or not 
at all. John Milton belongs to that time. He was the 
most learned of all our poets, the one who from his 
childhood upwards was a devourer of Greek and Latin 


books, of the romances of the Middle Ages, of French 
and Italian poetry, above all of the Hebrew Scriptures. 
All these became his friends ; for all of them connected 
themselves with the thoughts that occupied men in his 
own time, with the deep religious and political con- 
troversies which were about to bring on a civil war. 
Many persons think that the side which he took in 
that war must hinder us from making his books our 
friends ; that we may esteem him as a great poet, but 
that we cannot meet him cordially as a man. No one 
is more likely to entertain that opinion than an English 
clergyman, for Milton dealt his blows unsparingly 
enough, and we come in for at least our full share of 
them. I know all that, and yet I must confess that I 
have found him a friend, and a very valuable friend, 
even when I have differed from him most and he has 
made me smart most. It does not strike me that on 
the whole we profit most by the friends who flatter us. 
We may be stirred up to the recollection of our duty 
by those who speak stern and terrible words, of us, and 
of our class. If we are persuaded that they are utterly 
wrong in condemning the institutions to which we are 
attached, we may often admit that they are very right 
in condemning us for the sins which hinder men from 
seeing the worth of those institutions. I do not know 
anyone who makes us feel more than Milton does, the 
grandeur of the ends which we ought to keep always 
before us, and therefore our own pettiness and want of 
courage and nobleness in pursuing them. I believe he 
failed to discern many of the intermediate relations 


which God has established between Himself and us ; 
but I know no one who teaches us more habitually, 
that disobedience to the Divine will is the seat of all 
misery to men. I would rather converse with him as 
a friend than talk of him as a poet ; because then we 
put ourselves into a position to receive the best wisdom 
which he has to give us, and that wisdom helps to 
purge away whatever dross is mingled with it ; whereas 
if we merely contemplate him at a distance as a great 
genius, we shall receive some powerful influence from 
him, but we shall not be in a condition to compare one 
thing that he says to us with another. And to say 
the truth, I do not know what genius is, except it be 
that which begets some life in those who come in 
contact with it, which kindles some warmth in them. 
If there is genius in a poem, it must have been first in 
the poet ; and if it was in the poet, it must have been 
because he was not a stock or a stone, but a breathing 
and suffering man. And there is no writer whose 
books more force upon us the thought of him as a 
person than Milton's. There are few passages in his 
prose writings, full as they are of gorgeous passages, 
more beautiful than that in which he defends himself 
from the charge of entering from choice or vanity into 
controversies, by alleging the far different object and 
kind of writing to which from his youth upwards he 
had desired to devote himself. And in his latest poem 
" Samson Agonistes," where what he had learnt from 
the play- writers of Greece is wonderfully raised, and 
mellowed, and interpreted by what he had learnt irom 


the Old Testament, he himself speaks to us in every 
line. He transfers himself to the prison of Samson 
in Gaza ; he is the blind, downcast, broken man whom 
God appears to have cast off. The thought of God 
as the Deliverer gives him a consolation which nothing 
else can give ; he looks forward to some triumph 
which God will give to His race, as the only hope 
for himself. 

I have dwelt some time upon these "friends" because 
Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton, are the greatest names in 
our literature, and therefore it was important for my 
purpose to show you that their books do fulfil the 
purpose which I have said all books ought to fulfil. 
I might very fairly have gone back, and spoken to you 
of older writers than these. I might have spoken of 
the time of our Edward III., and have given you some 
proofs that our first poet, Chaucer, was a cordial, 
genial, friendly man, who could tell us a great many 
things which we want to know about his own time, 
and could also break down the barrier between his 
time and ours, and make us feel, that, though our dress 
may be very much unlike theirs, and our houses a 
good deal better, and our language a little less French, 
yet that on the whole our fathers worked at much the 
same trades as we do, fell into the same kind of sins, 
looked up at the same skies, had the same wants in 
their hearts, and required that they should be satisfied 
in the same way. I might have spoken to you also of 
some of the men who flourished at the time of the 
Reformation of Latimer for instance, whose broad, 


simple, humorous sermons address themselves to all 
the common sympathies of Englishmen, and are 
as free from starch and buckram as anyone could 
wish. I might have spoken to you also of some of 
Shakespeare's contemporaries, especially of that delight- 
ful and instructive companion Spenser's "Faery Queen," 
which makes us feel that without stepping a yard from 
our native English ground, or deserting any of our 
common occupations, we may be, ay and must be, 
engaged in a great fight with invisible enemies, and 
that we have invisible champions on our side. But 
as I have not time to speak of many books to-night, 
I have passed over these, and have begun at once 
with those which, for one reason or another, people 
are most likely to think of as having claims upon 
their respect rather than upon their friendship. That 
must be my reason too for not dwelling upon a book 
belonging to Milton's time, which many people would 
at once recognize as a delightful friend ; I mean Izaak 
Walton's " Angler." Knowing nothing of his craft, I 
should only betray my ignorance by entering upon it, 
and should lessen the pleasure which some of you, I 
dare say, have received from its quiet descriptions, 
and devout reflections. But I am glad to remember 
that there is such a book in our libraries, even if I 
understand very little of it, because it is one of the 
links between the life of the woods and streams and 
the life of the study, which it would be a great misfor- 
tune for us to lose. 

A link between this age and the one that follows it 


is found in Thomas Fuller, one of the liveliest and yet, 
in the inmost heart of him, one of the most serious 
writers one can meet with. I speak of this writer 
partly because there is no one who is so resolute that 
we should treat him as a friend, and not as a solemn 
dictator. By some unexpected jest, or comical turn 
of expression, he disappoints your purpose of receiving 
his words as if they were fixed in print, and asserts his 
right to talk with you, and convey his subtle wisdom 
in his own quaint and peculiar dialect. 

Fuller uses his wit to make his reader a friend. The 
writers of Charles II.'s court used their wit to prove 
that there could be no such thing as friendship with 
either books or men, that it was altogether a ridiculous 
obsolete sentiment. They established their point so 
far as they themselves were concerned ; one has no 
right to ask of them what they had not to give. But 
their punishment is a singular one. They wished to 
pass for men of the world, and not for vulgar book- 
wrights. We are obliged to regard them as bookwrights 
simply, and not as men at all. There is one exception. 
John Dryden stands apart from the men whose vices 
infected him, not merely because his style in prose and 
verse was immeasurably more vigorous than theirs, but 
because his confused life, and his evil companions, did 
not utterly destroy his heart. I do not know that one 
could make the writings of John Dryden friends ; so 
many of the very cleverest of them are bitter satires, 
containing a great deal of shrewd observation, some- 
times just, as well as severe, but certainly not binding 


us by any strong ties of affection to their author. Yet 
there is such a tragedy in the history of a mind so full 
of power as his, and so unable to guide itself amidst 
the shoals and quicksands of his time, that I believe 
we need not, and that we cannot, speak of him merely 
with the admiration which is due to his gifts ; we 
must feel for him somewhat of the pity that is akin to 
love. Mr. Macaulay charges Dryden with changing 
his religion chiefly that he might get a pension from 
James II. I do not believe that was his motive, or 
that the lesson from his life would be worth as much 
as it is if it had been. If we compare his " Religio 
Laici" which he wrote in his former, with his " Hind 
and Panther" which expressed his later opinions, I 
think we may perceive that his mind was unhinged, 
that he found nothing fixed or certain in heaven or 
earth, and that he drifted naturally wherever the tide 
of events carried him. That is the fate which may 
befall many who have no right to be described as 
mercenary time-servers. 

However, one is glad to escape from this age, which 
had become a very detestable one, and to find ourselves 
in one which, though not exemplary for goodness, pro- 
duced books of which we can very well make friends. 
If you take up the "Spectator," or the "Guardian," 
your first feeling is that the writers in it wish to culti- 
vate your friendship. They have thrown off the stiff 
manners of those who reckon it their chief business to 
write books ; at the same time they do not affect to be 
men of the world despising books. Their object is to 


bring books and people of the world into a good under- 
standing with each other; to make fine ladies and 
gentlemen somewhat wiser and better behaved by 
feeding them with good and wholesome literature ; 
to show the student what things are going on about 
him, that he may not be a mere pedant and recluse. 
I do not mean that this was the deliberate purpose of 
Addison and Steele. It was the natural effect of their 
position that they took this course. They had been 
educated as scholars ; they entered into civil life, and 
became members of Parliament. The two characters 
were mixed in them, and when they wrote books they 
could not help showing that they knew something of 
men. The two men were well fitted to work together. 
Addison had the calmer and clearer intellect ; he had 
inherited a respect for English faith and morality. 
Steele, with a more wavering conduct, had perhaps 
even more reverence in his inmost heart for goodness. 
Between them they appeared just formed to give a 
turn to the mind of their age; not presenting to society 
a very heroical standard, but raising it far above the 
level to which it had sunk, and is apt to sink. 

The "Spectator" and the "Guardian" have some- 
times been called the beginning of our periodical liter- 
ature. Perhaps they are ; but they are very unlike 
what we describe by that name in our day. There is 
no We in them. Though the papers have letters of 
the alphabet, and not names, put to them, and though 
they profess to be members of a club, each writer calls 
himself /. You can hardlv conceive what a difference 


it would make in the pleasure with which you read 
any paper, if the singular pronoun were changed for 
the plural. The good-humour of the writing would 
evaporate immediately. You would no longer find 
that you were in the presence of a kindly, friendly 
observer, who was going about with you, and pointing 
out to you this folly of the town, and that pleasant 
characteristic of a country gentleman's life. . All would 
be the dry, hard criticism of some distant being, who 
did not take you into his counsels at all, but merely 
told you what you were to think or not to think. 
And with the good-humour, what we call the humour, 
when we do not prefix the adjective to it, would also 
disappear. Mr. Thackeray, the most competent person 
possible for such a task, has introduced Addison and 
Steele among the humorists of England, and has shown 
very clearly both how the humour of the one differed 
from that of the other, and how unlike both were to 
Dean Swift, who is the best and most perfect specimen 
of ill-humour, that is to say, of a man of the keenest 
intellect and the most exquisite clearness of expression, 
who is utterly out of sorts with the world and with 
himself. Addison is on good terms with both. He 
amuses himself with people, not because he dislikes 
them, but because he likes them, and is not discom- 
posed by their absurdities. He does not go very far 
down into the hearts of them ; he never discovers any 
of the deeper necessities which there are in human 
beings. But everything that is upon the surface of 
their lives, and all the little cross-currents which 


disturb them, no one sees so accurately, or describes 
so gracefully. In certain moods of our mind, there- 
fore, we have here a most agreeable friend, one who 
tasks us to no great effort, who does not set us on 
encountering any terrible evils, or carrying forward 
any high purpose, but whom one must always admire 
for his quietness and composure ; who can teach us to 
observe a multitude of things that we should else pass 
by, and reminds us that in man's life, as in nature, 
there are days of calm and sunshine as well as of storm. 

But though one may have a very pleasant and use- 
ful conversation with this kind-hearted " Spectator " 
now and then, I do not think that such conversation 
would brace one to the hard work of life, or would 
enable one to sympathise with those who are engaged 
in it. We must remember that a very considerable 
majority of the world do not ride in coaches, as nearly 
all those we read of in the " Spectator " do ; that to 
earn bread by the sweat of the brow is the common 
heritage of the sons of Adam, and that it is a great 
misfortune not to understand that necessity, even if 
circumstances have exempted us from it. For that 
reason some of us may welcome another friend, far less 
happy and genial than Addison, often very rough and 
cross-grained, with rude inward affection. Old Samuel 
Johnson had none of Addison's soft training. He had 
nothing to do with the .House of Commons, except 
as a contraband reporter; he had not the remotest 
chance of being a Secretary of State even if he had not 
been a fierce Tory, and in the reign of George II. all 


but a Jacobite. With only booksellers for his patrons, 
obliged to seek his bread from hand to mouth by writ- 
ing for them what they prescribed, with a bad diges- 
tion, a temper anything but serene, a faith certainly 
as earnest as Addison's, but which contemplated its 
objects on the dark and not on the sunny side, he offers 
the greatest contrast one can conceive to the happy 
well-conditioned man of whom I have just been speak- 
ing. The opposition between them is all the more 
remarkable because the " Rambler " was formed on the 
model of the "Spectator," and because Johnson as 
much as Addison belongs to what ought to be called 
the Club Period of English literature. I do not suppose 
anyone will be bold enough to vindicate that name, 
be it good or evil, for our day, merely because gentle- 
men are now able to eat solitary dinners, hear news, 
and sleep over newspapers and magazines, in very 
magnificent houses in Pall Mall. The genuine Club, 
though its locality might be in some dark alley out of 
Fleet Street, was surely that in which men of different 
occupations after the toil of the day met to exchange 
thoughts. In that world Johnson flourished even more 
than Addison. The latter is accused by Pope of giving 
his little senate laws ; but Johnson's senate contained 
many great men who yet listened to his oracles with 
reverence. And those oracles were not delivered in 
sentences of three clauses ending in a long word in 
"tion," like those papers in the " Rambler " which are 
so well parodied in the " Rejected Addresses." I think 
that young men ought undoubtedly to be early warned 


of these pompous sentences, not because it is worse to 
imitate this style than any other for we have no 
business to imitate any (our style must be our own, or 
it is worth nothing) but because it is particularly 
easy to catch this habit of writing, and to fancy there 
is substance when there is only wind. But I cannot 
admit that Johnson's most inflated sentences contain 
mere wind. He had something to put into them ; they 
did express what he felt, and what he was, better than 
simpler, more English, more agreeable ones would have 
done. He adopted them naturally; they are part of 
himself; if we want to be acquainted with him, we 
must not find fault with them. And when he is des- 
cribing scenes, as in " Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia," 
he is often quite free and picturesque; when he is writ- 
ing about business, as in his "Falkland Island," he 
does not let his eloquence, which in that book is often 
very splendid, hinder him from being pointed and 
direct in his blows. He falls into what some people 
call King Cambyses' vein chiefly when he is moralizing 
on the condition of the world, and the disappointment 
of all man's hopes and projects in it. In his club, no 
one could speak with more straightness, wasting no 
words, but bringing out the thing he wants to say in 
the strongest and most distinct dress that could be 
found. One may not agree in half of the opinions he 
expresses, and may think that he delivers them very 
dogmatically. If one looked either at his writings or 
at Boswell's Life of him merely as books, one would go 
away very discontented and very angry ; but when one 


thinks of both as exhibiting to us a man, the case be- 
comes altogether different. We are all greatly indebted, 
I think, to Mr. Carlyle, for having determined that we 
should contemplate Johnson in this way, and not chiefly 
as a critic or a lexicographer. We may judge of him 
in those characters very differently; but in himself 
Mr. Carlyle has shown most clearly that he deserves 
our sympathy and our reverence. 

There were two members of Johnson's club to each 
of whom he was sincerely attached, and who were 
attached to each other, though in their habits, occupa- 
tions, talents, modes of thinking, they were as unlike 
him, and unlike each other, as any two men could be. 
They had, indeed, a common origin Oliver Goldsmith 
and Edmund Burke were both Irishmen. But Gold- 
smith carried his country about with him wherever he 
went; he was always blundering, and reckless, and 
good-natured. Burke only showed where he had been 
born by his zeal for the improvement of his country 
whenever its affairs came under discussion. I believe 
that these two men, with the vast differences that 
there are between them, may both become our friends, 
and that we shall not thoroughly enjoy the " Deserted 
Village," or the " Vicar of Wakefield," or the " Speeches 
on American Taxation," or the "Reflections on the 
French Revolution," unless they do. All Goldsmith's 
friends were always scolding him. laughing at him, and 
learning from him. They found that he had a fund of 
knowledge which he had picked up he could not tell 
how, but apparently by sympathizing with all the 


people that he came into contact with, and so getting 
to be really acquainted with them. He compiled his- 
tories without much learning about the people he was 
writing of ; yet he did not make them false or foolish, 
because he had more notion than many diligent his- 
torians have, of what men must be like in any 
latitudes. In his poetry he never goes, out of his depth ; 
he speaks of things which he has seen and felt himself, 
and so it tells us of him if it does not tell us of much 
else. In spite of all his troubles he is as good-natured 
as Addison; only he mixed with a different class of 
people from Addison, and can tell us of country vicars 
and their wives and daughters, though he may not 
know much of a Sir Roger de Coverley. His books, 
I think, must be always pleasant, as well as profitable, 
friends, provided we do not expect from them, as we 
ought not to expect from any friend, more than they 
profess to give. 

Burke is a friend of another order. Johnson said of 
him that if you met him under a gateway in a shower 
of rain you must perceive that he was a remarkable 
man. I do not think we can take up the most insigni- 
ficant fragment of the most insignificant speech or 
pamphlet he ever put forth, without arriving at the 
same conviction. But he does what is better than 
make us acknowledge him as a remarkable man. He 
makes us acknowledge that we are small men, that we 
have talked about subjects of which we had little know- 
ledge, and the principles of which we had imperfectly 


He told the electors of Bristol that they might reject 
him if they pleased, but that he should maintain his 
position as an English statesman and an honest man. 
They did reject him, of course, but his speech remains 
as a model for all true men to follow, as a warning to 
all who adopt another course, that they may make 
friends for the moment, but that they will not have a 
friend in their own conscience, and that their books, if 
they leave any, will be no friends to those who read 
them in the times to come. 

Away from the club in which Johnson, Burke, and 
Goldsmith were wont to meet, in a little village in 
Buckinghamshire, dwelt another poet, who was not un- 
interested in their doings, and who had in his youth 
mixed with London wits. William Cow per inspired 
much friendship among men, and still more among 
women, during his lifetime ; they found him the pleas- 
antest of all companions in his bright hours, and they 
did not desert him in his dark hours. His books have 
been friends to a great many since he left the earth, 
because they exhibit him very faithfully in both ; some 
of his letters and some of his poems being full of mirth 
and quiet gladness, some of them revealing awful 
struggles and despair. Whatever estimate may be 
formed of his poetry in comparison with that of earlier 
or later writers, every one must feel that his English 
is that of a scholar and a gentleman that he had the 
purest enjoyment of domestic life, and of what one may 
call the domestic or still life of nature. One is sure 
also that he had the most earnest faith, which he 


cherished for others when he could find no comfort in 
it for himself. These would be sufficient explanations 
of the interest which he has awakened in so many 
simple and honest readers who turn to books for sym- 
pathy and fellowship, and do not like a writer at all 
the worse because he also demands their sympathy 
with him. Cowper is one of the strongest instances, 
and proofs, how much more qualities of this kind affect 
Englishmen than any others. The gentleness of his 
life might lead some to suspect him of effeminacy ; 
but the old Westminster school-boy and cricketer comes 
out in the midst of his Meditation on Sofas ; and the 
deep tragedy which was at the bottom of his whole 
life, and which grew more terrible as the shadows of 
evening closed upon him, shows that there may be 
unutterable struggles in those natures which seem least 
formed for the rough work of the world. In one of his 
later poems he spoke of himself as one 

" Who, tempest-tossed, and wrecked at last, 
Comes home to port no more." 

But his nephew, who was with him on his death-bed, 
says that there was a look of holy surprise on his 
features after his eyes were closed, as if there were very 
bright visions for him behind the veil that was im- 
penetrable to him here. 

I have thus given you a few hints about the way in 
which books may be friends. I have taken my ex- 
amples from the books which are most likely to come 
in our way; and I have chosen them from different 


kinds of authors, that I may not impose my own tastes 
upon other people. I purposely avoid saying anything 
about more recent writers, who have lately left the 
world or are in it still, because private notions and pre- 
judices for or against the men are likely to mingle with 
our thoughts of their books. I do not mean that this 
is not the case with the older writers too. I think I 
have shown you that I have no wish to forget the men 
in the books that my great desire is that we should 
connect them together. But if we have known any- 
thing about the writers, or our fathers have known 
anything about them, if we have heard their acts and 
words gossiped about, they are not such good tests of 
the way in which we may discern the Authors in their 
books, and learn what they are from their books. But 
as I began this lecture with some animadversions upon 
the tendency of one part of our popular literature to 
weaken our feeling that books are our friends, I ought 
to say that I am very far indeed from thinking that this 
is the effect which the more eminent writers among us 
produce. In their different ways, I believe most of 
them have addressed themselves to our human sym- 
pathies, and have claimed a place for their books, not 
upon our shelves, but in our hearts. Of some, both 
prose writers and poets, this is eminently true. Per- 
haps, from feeling the depressing influence of the We- 
teaching upon all our minds, they have taken even 
overmuch pains to show that each one of them comes 
before us as an 1, and will not meet us upon any other 
terms. Many, I hope, who have established this inter- 


course with us will keep it with our children and our 
children's children, and will leave books that will be 
regarded as friends as long as the English language 
lasts, and in whatever regions of the earth it may be 

It is very pleasant to think in what distant parts of 
the earth it is spoken, and that in all those parts these 
books which are friends of ours are acknowledged as 
friends. And there is a living and productive power in 
them. They have produced an American literature, 
which is coming back to instruct us. They will pro- 
duce by and by an Australian literature, which will be 
worth all the gold that is sent to us from the diggings. 

American books have of late asserted very strongly 
their right to be reputed as our friends, and we have 
very generally and very cordially responded to the 
claim. I refer to one book now Mrs. Stowe's " Dred," 
though I did not mean to notice any contemporary 
book at all for the sake of certain passages in it which 
I think that none that have read them can have 
forgotten. They are those in which the authoress 
describes the effects which were produced upon a very 
simple-hearted and brave Negro whose whole life had 
been one of zealous self-devotion to some white chil- 
dren, but who had had no book teaching whatsoever 
by the stories which were read to him out of the 
Old and New Testaments. We are told with great 
simplicity and with self-evident truth, how every one 
of these stories started to life in his mind, how every 
person who is spoken of in them came forth before the 


hearer as an actual living being, how his inmost soul 
confessed the book as a reality and as a friend. No 
lesson, I think, is more suited to our purpose. It 
shows us what injury we do to the Book of Books 
when we regard it as a book of letters, and not as a book 
of life ; none can bear a stronger witness to us how it 
may come forth as the Book of Life, to save all others 
from sinking into dryness and death. I have detained 
you far too long in endeavouring to show you how 
every true book exhibits to us some man, from whose 
mind its thoughts have issued, and with whom it 
brings us acquainted. May I add this one word in 
conclusion ? that I believe all books may do that for 
us, because there is one Book which, besides bringing 
into clearness and distinctness a number of men of 
different ages from the creation downwards, brings 
before us one Friend, the chief and centre of all, who 
is called there The Son of Man. 



PERHAPS it may seem to you rather a waste of words 
to speak at any length upon the use of words. Is not 
the use of words, to express our meaning ? When we 
have said this, have we not said all that it is worth 
our while to say ? I think not, for this reason : it is a 
great thing no doubt to be able to express our meaning, 
but it is a still more necessary thing to have a meaning. 
The great difference between a wise man and an 
unwise man is, that the one knows, and the other 
does not knpw, what he means. Anything then that 
will help us in the work of understanding ourselves 
is still more valuable than that which helps us in the 
work of expressing ourselves. I believe the study of 
words does afford us this help : that, if we know how 
to use them aright, they will not only supply us with 
convenient forms for communicating our thoughts to 
others, but they will actually teach us what our 
thoughts are, arid how to think. It is this use of them 

1 Delivered to the students of Guy's Hospital, about 1838, 


of which I propose to speak in my lecture to-night. 
Men very commonly introduce their observations on 
this subject by saying, that words are arbitrary signs 
of ideas. I do not think I quite understand this 
sentiment. Taking it in its largest sense, it would 
seem to imply, that anyone may use words just as he 
likes, that I might if I pleased call black white, or 
right wrong. But this is not a privilege which you 
would concede to me, or to anyone ; at least it is not 
one of which any man in his senses would avail 
himself. What I suppose persons in general would 
understand by words being the arbitrary signs of 
ideas is this, that a certain number of men have 
agreed together to describe certain things or cer- 
tain acts by certain names, and that we are now 
under a tacit convention not to depart from this rule. 
But if such an explanation as this is offered of the 
nature of language, those who furnish it should be 
prepared to show where and how this convention took 
place. What is there in history at all answering to 
it ? Where was the assembly held in which English- 
men determined to speak English, and Frenchmen 
French ? Who prescribed the terms of the bargain ? 
How did he persuade other men to acquiesce in 
them ? The nomenclature of different sciences may 
perhaps occur to you as something a little illus- 
trating such a process. A certain learned man 
calls some chemical substances, for instance, by 
certain names borrowed from ancient languages, and 
these names become by degrees the authorized and 

34 ON WORDS. [II. 

habitual designation of those substances among all who 
belong to his school, nay, possibly among all who write 
or converse about chemistry. But you will see in an 
instant how idle it must be to apply this analogy to 
the origin and growth of language itself. It is one 
of the boasts of scientific men that such communica- 
tions and mutual compacts as these could never take 
place, but in the most advanced and artificial stages of 
society. The words in scientific nomenclature are 
expressly taken out of the ordinary stock of human 
expressions to be put under regulations which they 
have never obeyed, and to be safe from the habitual 
influences which act upon them. Yet even these 
scientific words are not arbitrary signs of ideas. 
When they are good for anything, when they are 
anything more than the Abracadabra of a Memoria 
technica, they are selected for some real or supposed 
appropriateness to the nature of the thing which they 
denote. We cannot draw any inference, then, from 
this instance in favour of the notion to which I am 
referring. And I think the more you turn over that 
notion in your minds, the less you will find of prac- 
tical worth and utility in it. I do not say that there 
is not some truth lurking under it, there must be in 
every phrase that has gained such currency. But 
it is not a truth which assists us materially in ex- 
amining into the nature of words, or in turning them 
to a good account. On the contrary, it is generally 
used to discourage all such attempts, and, I fear, to 
produce an impression that all speech, and even all 

II.] ON WORDS. 35 

thought, is arbitrary, hollow, and insincere. There 
can be no worse conclusion to arrive at than this. In 
life and practice words are most real, substantial 
things. They exercise a power which we may deny 
if we choose, but which we feel even while we are 
denying it. They go forth spreading good or mischief 
through society. Surely there must be something 
solemn and deep in their nature. 

Talk of "arbitrary" and "conventional" as you 
may, but every honest man feels that it is a sin to 
use words at random ; and every thoughtful man feels 
when uttering them carefully and conscientiously that 
he enters into sympathy and fellowship with men 
who have spoken those same words generations ago. 
He begins to feel as they felt. He learns that men 
only create their words as they create the breath 
which goes forth from the lungs with which God has 
provided them, by help of the air with which He has 
surrounded them. He begins to feel that in words 
are stored up facts which may enable him better to 
understand the history of mankind, and to interpret 
and admire the purposes of its Creator respecting it. 

These remarks will clear the way for any hints 
which I may have to offer hereafter respecting the 
right method of investigating the force and appli- 
cation of words. But as it would be very impertinent 
to propose the one which I think best, without con- 
sidering others which have the sanction of great 
names attached to them: and as at the same time 
it would be quite out of my power, and very unrea- 

36 ON WOEDS. [II. 

son able in such a lecture as this if it were in my 
power, to enter into an examination of the various 
etymological systems which have been supported by 
learned men here and elsewhere, I shall preface what 
I have to say by a few observations on two schemes, 
one or other of which is likely to find favour with 
English students. The first I shall call, for want of 
a better name, the Lexicographical, the second the 
Derivative, or purely Etymological. These are longer 
words than I like to employ, and if I did not hope 
soon to find equivalents for them, I should not resort 
to them. Possibly it may give a sort of personal 
interest to my explanations of them, and may even 
contribute something to the clearer understanding of 
both, if I speak a little of two distinguished men who 
may be fairly called representative of these two 
schemes, and through whom most of us are likely to 
get our knowledge of them. The men I allude to 
are, Dr. Samuel Johnson and John Home Tooke. 

You are aware that it would be difficult to fix upon 
two persons so opposed in all their habits, tempers, 
and opinions, as these two. The one an old Tory, I 
might even say a Jacobite; the other the very best 
and cleverest specimen of a modern leveller. But I 
believe it will be found that, widely as their notions 
upon every possible subject differed, the feeling from 
which they started was the same. Both were almost 
equally remarkable for a keen and lively sense of the 
disorder and perplexity in which all human pursuits, 
studies, thoughts, systems, are involved. But this 

II.] ON WOBDS. 37 

feeling, strong in both, far stronger in him who de- 
spaired of all alteration than in him who abetted all 
this feeling, being modified by the different characters 
of their minds and their different circumstances, drove 
them in completely opposite directions all the irregu- 
larities and disorders which Johnson saw in the world 
he felt also in himself; if society seemed to him a 
turbulent chaos, studies an interminable labyrinth, 
there was a confusion in his own feelings just as 
endless, there were mazes in his own thoughts to which 
he had as little clue. Till he could harmonize himself, 
his discontent and his uprightness equally hindered 
him from attempting to set anything else in order. 
All schemes and theories which ingenious men have 
devised for reconciling difficulties and explaining 
anomalies, he scouted as pious frauds, and disliked, 
because they fretted the sores in his own soul which 
they could not heal. On the other hand, the facts and 
doctrines in which he believed that the real explana- 
tion of these difficulties lay hid, and the real conso- 
lation under the pressure of them, he would earnestly 
fight for, though he could not see the explanation nor 
receive the comfort. 

All ancient landmarks, all existing forms and insti- 
tutions, he clave to, because the sense of disorder in 
his own mind told him that they were not the causes 
of disorganization, and he believed they were the only 
hindrances to its becoming universal. A man of this 
spirit could be gloomy and ferocious in his outward 
deportment, and yet possess a far greater fund of real 

38 ON WOEDS. [II. 

benevolence than is to be found in most good-natured 

He could also treat of every subject that came 
within his grasp in such a manner as to leave the 
reader utterly dissatisfied and scarcely wiser than 
before, and yet with the strongest impression that he 
had been in the company of a man of most vigorous 
and herculean powers. For what we want of an 
author is, that he would assist us in reconciling the 
thoughts of our own minds, in bringing together and 
uniting what had been loose and disjointed elements. 
For this work Johnson renders us no service he is 
mighty in collecting, piling up, accumulating ; but 
disposition, proportion, and harmony, he first despaired 
of attaining, and at last learned to hate. He did but 
express his most inward and habitual feeling when 
he exclaimed one day, "How I wish that music were 
impossible ! " 

In John Home Tooke the quick perception of dis- 
order without was attended with no correspondent 
sense of disorder within ; a more self-complacent person 
seems never to have existed ; the perplexities he beheld 
in others only taught him to understand and admire 
his own clear-sightedness and sagacity. Troubled by 
no inward conflicts, overwhelmed by no feeling of a 
mystery around him which he could not comprehend, 
he had nothing to do in the world but to contemplate 
and to criticize. Still, though as far as sympathy went, 
the proceedings of the world were nothing more to him 
than a game of chess, he had too much talent and energy 

II.] ON WOEDS. 39 

to be satisfied with the poor amusement of commenting 
on the players, and pointing out how much better the 
moves would have been if he had made them. He 
aspired to something more than this, for the period in 
which he lived was one which tempted every clever 
man to try his hand at system making, as well as 
system mending. And there was nothing to check his 
ambition ; for he had no experience in his own mind 
of the complexities of human feeling, its strong cur- 
rents and fierce back-eddies. Of hopes and fears, dis- 
appointed wishes, and undefinable aspirations he knew 
nothing, and of course believed nothing; of course, 
also, all those high mysteries in which these termin- 
ate and find their only satisfaction, whether verbally 
acknowledged or not, were mere dead letters to him. 
How to adjust the springs of a machine upon which 
none of these disturbing forces are operating, was, for 
a man of Home Tooke's uncommon cleverness, a very 
easy work. Only consistently follow out the principle 
that man is not a spiritual being, that no spiritual 
processes go forward in his mind, or at any rate are so 
little important that they may be quite overlooked in 
a long calculation, and you will be surprised how very 
quickly you can run up an edifice of morals, legis- 
lation, and philosophy. Indeed, considering what 
trouble and expense of thought are saved by this 
simple expedient, it is a marvel, not that most of 
our modern Babel-builders are materialists, but that a 
single one of them is anything else and if men pos- 
sessing a very small capital of wit and knowledge find 

40 ON WOEDS. [II. 

it most profitable to invest them in this theory, we 
need not wonder that Horne Tooke, with his large 
capital, should have realized a considerable portion of 
fame by the same means. In the field of politics com- 
petition has considerably diminished his profits ; but in 
Etymology, into which we shall presently see that he 
carried precisely the same principle, his gains have 
been probably very nearly commensurate with his 

It is not in order to detract from the value of the 
Etymological researches of these great men that I have 
ventured to give you this sketch of their characters ; 
but it is, that we may know exactly the assistance 
that we have to expect from them in a science, the main 
object of which is, to make us acquainted with our- 
selves: it is, that we may be aware of the kind of 
shortcoming which we are likely to find in each of 
them, and that when, by actual examination of the 
systems, we do find it, we may the better know what 
it means. And it is, lastly, that we may be able to 
reap the full benefit of their industry and talents, 
which I am well convinced that no one can thoroughly 
appreciate, or properly avail himself of, who has not in 
some degree emancipated himself from their systems. 

The Lexicographical method, of which I consider 
Johnson to be the English representative, I will ex- 
plain by an illustration. It shall be, if you please, the 
word " Property." I will extract the article entire 
from Johnson's Dictionary : 

" PROPERTY, N.S., from Proper. 

n.] ON WOEDS. 41 

" 1. Peculiar quality : 

" 'What special property or quality is that which, being nowhere 
found but in sermons, maketh them effectual to save souls ? - 
HOOKER, Eccl. Polity, 6, v. s. 22. 

" 'A secondary essential mode, is any attribute of a thing, which 
is not of primary consideration, and is called a. property? WATTS. 

" 2. Quality ; disposition : 

" * 'Tis conviction, not force, that must induce assent ; and sure 
the logick of a conquering sword has no great property that way ; 
silence it may, but convince it cannot.' DR. H. MOORE, Decay of 
Christian Piety. 

" ' It is the property of an old sinner to find delight in review- 
ing his own villanies in others.' SOUTH'S Sermons. 

" 3. Might of possession : 

" ' Some have been deceived into an opinion, that the inheritance 
of rule over men, and property in things, sprung from the same 
original, and were to descend by the same rule.' LOCKE. 

" ' Property, whose original is from the right a man has to use 
any of the inferior creatures, for subsistence and comfort, is for 
the sole advantage of the proprietor, so that he may even destroy 
the thing that he has property in.' LOCKE. 

" 4. Possession held in one's own right : 

" * For numerous blessings yearly showered, 
Audi, property with plenty crowned, 
Accept our pious praise.' DRYDEN. 

" 5. The thing possessed : 

" ' 'Tis a thing impossible 

I should love thee but as & property.' SHAKESPEARE. 
" ' No wonder such men are true to a government, where liberty 
runs so high, where property is so well secured.' SWIFT. 

42 ON WORDS. [n. 

" 6. Nearness or right I know not which is the 
sense in the following lines : 

" ( Here I disclaim all my paternal care, 
Propinquity and property of blood, 
And as a stranger to my heart and me 
Hold thee.' SHAKESPEARE, King Lear. 

" 7. Some article required in a play for the actors ; 
something appropriate to the character played : 

" * I will draw a bill of properties such as our play wants.' 

SHAKESPEARE, Midsummer Niglifs Dream, 
" ' The purple garments raise the lawyer's fees ; 

High pomp and state are useful properties? DRYDEN. 
" * Begin then to con our part, when we are ready to be hissed 
off the stage, and death is now pulling off our properties. 

" * Greenfield was the name of the property man in that time, 
who furnished implements for the actors.' POPE. 

"8. Property for propriety anything peculiarly 
adapted : 

" ' Our poets excel in grandity and gravity, smoothness and 
property, in quickness and briefness.' CAMDEN." 

Now let us inquire, what are our feelings on reading 
this catalogue ? The first, and a most legitimate one, 
may perhaps be admiration of the reading and diligence 
which has gathered passages from so many excellent 
English authors, illustrating the word and furnishing 
in themselves, and without reference to the immediate 
subject, a most entertaining study. That peculiar 
faculty of Johnson, to which I have already adverted, 
of collecting and accumulating, shines forth in this as 
in every page of his Dictionary ; but when we have 

II.] ON WORDS. 43 

paid this reasonable tribute to genius, I cannot help 
thinking that another feeling will arise in our minds, 
which will take this form " What," we say to our- 
selves, " when I use the word property in one ap- 
plication, is it no more like property in another 
application than it is like any other word in the 
language ? Is there no common meaning, not even a 
bead-string to hang the different meanings upon ? " 

I cannot help thinking that there is something much 
more distressing in this notion, something in it more 
fatal to the sincerity of our minds, than at first we are 
inclined to suspect. Those who have riot made the 
experiment for themselves of tracing out the sense of a 
word through its different applications, may not feel 
this so strongly as I do. But I think they must admit 
that the common-sense conclusion of anyone would be 
against Dr. Johnson. Anyone not told the reverse 
would imagine, that the word " property " which he 
heard on Friday in the mouth of a land-surveyor was 
the same word with the word " property " which he 
heard on Saturday in the mouth of a naturalist. It 
would never come into his head to imagine that the 
word was the same in the sound which it makes to the 
ear, and the letters which manifest it to the eye, but 
had no other resemblance at all ; and I think I may 
add, that he would be some time before he would be 
persuaded to adopt the conclusion. 

This, then, is the radical vice which those who seek 
the study of words, as a means of attaining a knowledge 
of themselves, find in the Johnsonian method; but 

44 ON WOKDS. [n. 

how is it that this method necessarily involves this 
vice ? It involves it, first, by its indifference to deri- 
vations. The derivation of a word in Johnson is 
a secondary matter altogether ; for form's sake a deri- 
vation is given, but almost anything will do an 
English noun will be derived from a French one, 
which might just as well come from it, or a verb in 
one language is just paralleled by a corresponding 
verb in another. Nowhere is there an attempt to con- 
nect more than the one or two first senses of a word 
with the derivation all the rest are supposed to have 
been so long away from their mother, and to have 
travelled so much in foreign parts, that they needs 
must have forgotten her and she them. The second 
and still greater hindrance to our attaining a right 
understanding of words, and ourselves in the use of 
them, while we continue tied to the lexicographical 
method, is the implied notion that we know a word 
when we know its definition. This error lies so deep, 
and its roots spread so wide, that I almost fear to 
strike at it in the middle of a lecture. But as I have 
no hope to find standing ground, unless it be in some 
measure cleared away, I will endeavour to explain the 
nature of my objection, leaving the vindication of it to 
your own judgment. 

Before the time of Bacon, definitions of objects took 
the place of the knowledge of those objects ; the great 
principle developed by that philosopher was this, 
that nature was to be studied in nature, that we 
can attain no knowledge whatever by definitions, that 

n ] ON WORDS. 45 

they are merely devices for the convenience of the 
mind while it is engaged in its experimental labours, 
but do in no sense whatever supersede those labours. 
This doctrine, which is almost too plain for you to 
understand I mean that it has so worked into our 
feelings that we can scarcely enter into the possibility 
of the opposite doctrine, or suppose that it was ever 
entertained this is just the truth which Bacon had 
the hardest work to maintain against the logicians of 
his day. Now, I contend that words are entitled to 
the benefit of a similar doctrine that you can no more 
reach the life of a word by means of a definition than 
you can reach the life of a chemical substance by means 
of a definition ; that they are good and useful land- 
marks for the mind, while it is engaged in investigating 
the meaning of a word, but that they are not in any 
sense the meaning of it ; and that he who, because he 
has got the definition, fancies he knows and under- 
stands that word, is practising as great a fraud upon 
himself as the old schoolmen practised upon them- 
selves, when they fancied that by their endless specu- 
lations and definitions of nature they were attaining a 
knowledge of nature. 

We have seen how remarkably the Johnsonian 
system exhibits that want of unity which we showed 
to be the characteristic of its author's mind. The 
possession of this merit is the great attraction of 
Tooke's system. His, you may remember, I called the 
Derivative or purely Etymological system. I called it 
so because, instead of giving multifarious explanations 

46 ON WOEDS. [II. 

of any word in common usage which presents itself 
to him, he takes us at once to the root, or what he 
believes to be the root. In performing this work he 
conferred a great benefit upon our language. For, 
instead of allowing us to be content with merely 
knowing similar words in other languages, and calling 
these the origin of words in our own, he led us to that 
which is, at all events, the primitive language of us, 
and of many of the nations in the North of Europe. 
I do not mean that he was the first scholar who had 
attended to Anglo-Saxon ; there had been many who 
had studied it before him, and many, I suppose, who 
have studied it much more effectually since. I do not 
know even whether he was a sound Saxon scholar ; I 
fancy that some doubts upon this point have been 
raised of late years. But this is certain, that he was 
a devoted and exclusive one, and that he compelled 
Englishmen to regard a great many words as of native 
origin which they had been wont to trace to some 
classical source. This was, undoubtedly, doing a good 
service, and one could easily have pardoned Home 
Tooke for being a little fanatical in following out his 
own system, and for utterly denying the worth of 
classical etymologies, even when they were far more 
obvious and reasonable than his own. But he had 
another reason than this for exalting Anglo-Saxon into 
our sole guide in determining the force of English 
words. Admitting most fully that it is the mother 
of our tongue, yet the plain evidence of history com- 
pels us to acknowledge that it had a father as well 

IL ] ON WORDS. 47 

as a mother, that the thoughts which came to us first 
wrapt up in the language of Rome, gave life to that 
which would else have been merely material and dead, 
and imparted to our language all its highest powers 
and deepest meaning. In the South, where the primi- 
tive language was weak, because the character of the 
people was weak, the classical principle wholly pre- 
dominated. Here, and in Germany, there was a strong 
homely stock, which did not hinder the riper and 
older language from making its strength felt; nay, 
which enabled it to exert its strength more effectually ; 
but which, at the same time, has given such marked 
and distinct features to our speech, as the classical 
mixture has not been able in any way to obliterate. 

Now of this fact Home Tooke refused to take any 
cognizance. The clearness of his mind, impatient of 
all Johnson's generalities, led him at once to fix 
vigorously and determinately upon the primary ele- 
ments of a word, and to say, " I am sure these are 
the elements of it." But the hard and material 
character of his mind led him to stop there. He 
would admit this, and nothing beyond this. Hence 
he presents us with the appearance of great simplicity, 
and it is the simplicity of his system which makes it 
so popular. But unfortunately it does not explain 
facts ; it only gets rid of facts, and those oftentimes the 
solemnest, the most important facts of a man's own 
being. Take one or two instances, which have been 
often noticed and exposed before, but which should be 
exposed again and again, because they are traps and 

48 ON WOEDS. [ll. 

pitfalls in the way of every fresh student. You have 
been used to fancy that such words as Right and 
Wrong meant something; that there is a right, and 
that there is a wrong. No conventions settled what 
these words should denote. No conventions can alter 
their force. There they are; ultimate points which 
men must recognize, which their consciences compel 
them to recognize. We want a light from above to 
show us the right, and warn us of the wrong ; but we 
are obliged, if we are honest men, to believe in them, 
and act as if they were, at all times, and in all circum- 
stances. But if we are to believe Home Tooke, all 
this is not so. Right comes from a word signifying 
"that which is ordered, or ordained." So be it; I 
shall show you presently that much is to be learnt 
from this fact. But the impression which he wants to 
leave on your mind is this : Right being the ordained 
thing, the notion of an absolute right or an absolute 
wrong is out of the question, a mere fiction of priests 
and lawgivers to get credit for their own assumptions. 
You must get a competent authority which Hobbes 
would make the Prince of the day, which Tooke would 
make the popular voice to determine what is right, 
and what is wrong. Perhaps you may say, if we only 
get the right authority, the Ruler of the universe, the 
position is of no importance. I believe even then it is 
of the greatest importance, because it will involve the 
question whether the Ruler of the universe is, accord- 
ing to the Pagan notion, merely a Mighty Power, or 
whether he is, according to the Christian notion, the 

II.] ON WORDS. 49 

Righteous Being. But even without taking this point 
into account, Tooke, by another of his derivations, has 
cut us off from this refuge. Truth, he says, is derived 
from the word to trow ; truth means, " that which a 
man troweth." Absolute truth, then, like absolute 
right, has vanished from the region of our thoughts, 
and nothing is but that which seems. These are the 
sleights of hand by which this distinguished etymolo- 
gist robs those who give heed to him of that for which 
all the silver and gold in the universe would be no 
compensation. When you hear of such doings, you 
may be inclined to think that his system does not 
only, as I said, illustrate the character of his own 
mind, but that it proves the essential worthlessness, 
nay, mischievousness, of the study to which he de- 
voted himself. I draw just the opposite conclusion 
from these facts. I see in them evidence of the 
immense importance of the study of words. I see 
how thoroughly confused and false must be that 
notion which treats them as mere arbitrary signs, 
when so much of all that most deeply concerns us is 
thus brought into connection with them. And it is 
not an imagination, but a notorious fact, that these 
sayings of Tooke's have produced an effect on the 
minds of numbers; have led numbers to think that 
false coins had been passed off upon them, stamped 
with precious names, but carrying only a conventional 
value, when they have been spoken to about Right 
and Truth, and have been told that it is to be the 
business of their lives to do the right, and to know 


50 ON WORDS. [II. 

the truth. I allow that there must have been an evil 
preparation of mind beforehand, that they must have 
been inclined by their moral state to disbelieve in 
anything fixed and real, before these arguments, 
addressed to the intellect, could have produced any 
decided impression upon them. Still I believe that it 
is important to show them how little warrant there is 
for that impression in the study of words nay, how 
much that study, if truly and faithfully pursued, must 
tend to dispel it. I think it is very important they 
should understand, that words do indeed bear witness 
to man's connection with that which is earthly and 
material, because he is so connected, and because 
everything which he does and utters must proclaim 
this truth : but that if you look them fairly in the 
face, they are also found to testify, and that not weakly 
or obscurely, of man as a spiritual being ; nay, that it 
is impossible steadily to meditate upon the history of 
any single word without carrying away a conviction 
that he is so, which all the materialism in the world 
cannot set aside. 

In using this phrase History of a word, I have 
indicated that method which I believe unites the 
advantages of Johnson's and Tooke's, and is free from 
the inconveniences of both. You observed what a 
list of meanings Johnson gave us for the one word 
" property." We complained that we could find no 
connection between these meanings that one seemed 
to stand as aloof from the other as if they were not 
kinsmen, or even friends. Still it is a fact which we 

II.] ON WOEDS. 51 

must be thankful to Johnson for teaching us, and for 
illustrating by so many useful quotations, that such a 
variety of significations does exist. According to 
Tooke's method, we should at once have settled on the 
derivation of the word " property." We should have 
said that it meant " that which was a man's own." All 
those higher meanings of the word, which we found 
expressed in so many beautiful passages in old 
English authors, would have been brought down till 
they intimated nothing more than is intimated by the 
word in every bill of sale, or at any auction mart ; and 
we should have been told, what is certainly true, that 
this is a much simpler method, and is a great saving of 
trouble. But the mischief is, that in this way, just as 
much as in the other, we get rid of facts. We lost the 
fact of the significations being connected in Johnson. 
We lose the fact of there being any signification at all, 
except the first, in Tooke. Now, what if the opposite 
evils of these two systems, like the opposite views 
and dispositions of the persons who supported them, 
should have a common origin ? I think that they 
have. I think their common error is, that they both 
alike deny the living, germinating power of words. 
Home Tooke, who ties a word down to its lowest 
sense, Johnson, who bandages each use of a word 
in a separate definition, alike disbelieve in that prin- 
ciple which, had they acknowledged it, would have 
brought their methods into coincidence. If they would 
have stooped to the strong and irresistible evidence 
which the workings of our own minds, which all history, 

52 ON WOEDS. [n. 

furnishes, that there is as much a vital principle in a 
word as in a tree or a flower, they would have under- 
stood how it was possible that the root should be a 
small ugly thing, and yet that it should contain in itself 
the whole power and principle of the leaves, and buds, 
and flowers, into which it afterwards expands ; they 
would not have consented so cruelly to tie up all its 
rich and luxuriant shoots ; they would not have thought 
that the blossom in its May-day fulness and beauty 
should renounce its connection with the root, or have 
believed that the root must assert its dignity by reduc- 
ing to its own ignoble and unsightly shape the blossom 
which is its consummate glory. They would have 
understood, too, how the peculiar circumstances of any 
age, moral or political, like the influence of sun and 
air, of spring breezes, of mildew and of blight, may 
modify the form and colour of a word, may stint or 
quicken its growth, may give it a full blown, coarse, 
material look, cause it to sicken into a pale and droop- 
ing abstraction, or strengthen it in all its spiritual sa.p 
and juices. 

In using this language I am far from intending to be 
metaphorical. I use that language which I believe does 
most literally and exactly convey my meaning. The 
point in debate is, whether words are endued with this 
principle of life, the manifestations of which it is impos- 
sible in any way so truly to express as in the language 
of outward nature. Whether it be so or not, I repeat, 
is the question. To call this language metaphorical is 
to beg the question. I assume that it is not so, and 

1L ] ON WORDS. 53 

that assumption I have supported, at least by some 
negative evidence. 

You will see, I think, that a complete etymological 
system formed upon this idea, would require more 
study and diligence to work it out than either that of 
Johnson or Tooke, but at the same time would bring 
in a far more rich reward to the student; for it is 
almost impossible to conjecture how much light would 
be thrown upon our national history, upon the history 
of our wars, arts, and manufactures, above all upon 
the history of our mental and spiritual progress, by 
an examination of the senses which words have borne 
at different times ; of the impressions they have re- 
ceived from different persons ; of the new applications 
which they have gained from different discoveries ; of 
the changes they have undergone from different revolu- 
tions. To know through what difficulties and under 
what influences our language attained strength and 
maturity, and how any symptoms of declension or 
decay, which it may now exhibit, are connected with 
a similar declension in our moral feelings, in our 
reverence for institutions, or in the vigour of our 
search after truth, must be very useful and important 
for any Englishman, especially for those who are to 
be in any way the guides and teachers of their 
brethren. But it was not in this large way that I 
proposed to consider the subject to-night. I speak 
rather of the influence it might have on our own 
minds ; of the assistance it might be to us in acquiring 

54 ON WOBDS. [II. 

Of course, even in this point of view, it would only 
be possible for me, and perhaps, on the whole, I 
might have thought it the most useful course, to offer 
a few hints for your guidance in carrying out such 
inquiries, rather than to conduct them at any length 

I shall, therefore, conclude my lecture with perform- 
ing a few experiments on words, which, though they 
may be a poor substitute for the brilliant experiments 
on physical subjects which you may sometimes witness 
here, may yet help you to feel that there is a life and 
power in the words which you speak, as well as in the 
things which you handle ; that within them too there 
lie secret and slumbering fires, for warmth or for con- 
flagration. If we begin with that word with which we 
found Home Tooke dealing so summarily, the word 
Right, we shall admit at once his assertion, that 
"right " means that which is ordered or ordained. 

How shall we apply this in the first and lowest case 
of all to that use which we make of the word when 
we speak of our " right " and " left " hand. Home 
Tooke naturally delights in this instance. It favours 
his hypothesis mightily that the right hand in some 
countries should be the left hand in others, and he 
quotes with triumph the paradox of the road : " If you 
go to the left you are sure to go right." 

But who does not feel that even here language is 
pointing to something fixed and certain ? One nation 
may use this hand, and call it right ; another that, and 
call it right. One is not a rule for the other ; granted. 


But each alike recognizes the existence of a rule ; each 
alike feels that there is some order and constitution of 
things, determining that it should be so, and no other- 
wise. What then do you gain by proving that the 
word is sometimes applied to a case in which there is 
no fixed invariable rule, or at least no acknowledged 
one ? You give merely a proof of a witness in the 
mind that there is some standard, some invariable 
order, which it is wishing to detect everywhere. But 
this is not all. The corresponding word to right is not 
used in all countries in reference to the hand. Dextra, 
for instance, in Latin has no reference to right or 
wrong. And yet in every language there is some word 
which does betoken the feeling of right or wrong. We 
are, then, driven to say that we have not got the high- 
est sense of the word. We must look to some further 
application of it in order to know fully what it means. 
Have we got it, then, when we meet with this kind of 
use of it : " I have a right to that horse ; " " You have 
no right to put me in prison " ? Evidently we are on 
higher ground here. This sense of right points to 
something more than the rule which determines why 
we should use one hand rather than another, in throw- 
ing a quoit, or writing a letter. Here is evidently 
implied some rule made for me, and made for other 
men, which I fancy has been violated in respect to me. 
If you consider how these words are commonly spoken, 
you feel that they contain an acknowledgment, not 
merely that something is, but that so it ought to be ; 
nay, that it ought to be so even if it is otherwise. But 

56 ON WORDS. [II. 

still, when we reflect on this use of the word, we feel 
that it cannot be the final or the highest one. You 
say you have this right. Does it reside in you, then ? 
Can you assert it ? If you can, why do you call upon 
anything else, upon any law or any higher power, to 
help you ? 

There must still be another use of the word to 
explain all the foregoing. And do we not light upon 
this application of it when I say in reference to some 
state of mind or character, " This is right," and of some 
other, " This is wrong " ? In speaking thus I recognize 
a standard from which I must not depart not an 
accidental standard, but a fixed immutable standard, 
one of which I am forced to say This is the right. I 
do not make some claim for myself which I have no 
power to enforce, but I declare myself in subjection to 
a law which I am bound to obey. I give this as an 
instance of the point which I am enforcing, that you 
must follow a word up into its highest sense in order 
to understand the lower sense of it ; that, even in this 
highest sense, you will find it is the same word which 
you had before noticed in some more vulgar accepta- 
tion; and that, when you do bring it to its highest 
point, you will see how the conscience of mankind has 
been bearing testimony to the same truth to which 
your conscience, if you will listen to it, is bearing 
witness at this hour. 

That word Conscience itself is one on which we 
cannot meditate too earnestly. You should consider 
it along with the adjective, " conscious." You should 

II.] ON WORDS. 57 

consider what you mean when you say "I am con- 
scious " of something. You should remember that it 
is derived from two words signifying " to know " and 
" together with." You must see that it implies that 
you know, or take account of, something which is 
passing within your own self. It leads us to this 
deeply solemn thought, that a man can not only 
perceive the things that are without him, but that he 
has eyes within, and that there is a whole world for 
him there to contemplate. But this is an appalling 
reflection if we do not pursue the thought higher, if 
we do not ascend from the word " consciousness " to 
the word " conscience," if we do not reflect that it is 
not our own voice merely that is speaking within, but 
the voice of another, the perfect Teacher, Reprover, 
Guide ; and if we do not believe that it is possible to 
ascend from the conscience of His presence into com- 
munion with His character and will. 

From this word, if you please, you may pass to one 
which I have several times had occasion to use to-night 
the word Absolute. We are not perhaps in the 
habit of connecting this word with the word "to 
absolve," though in fact it is the past participle of it. 
The word " to absolve " is " to set free from," the word 
"absolute" is " set free from." The absolute is that 
which is perfectly free, loosed from all restraints and 
limitations that which gives the law to other things, 
and is a law to itself. Absolute goodness is that of 
which all other goodness is only the reflection. A 
person on earth setting himself up to be absolute is the 

58 ON WOKDS. [ll. 

very reverse of a free man, is generally a slave, for he 
has put himself into a monstrous position ; he has put 
himself in the place of God. That which man should 
desire to be is, not an absolute creature, but an absolved 
creature ; he is a freed man, not a free man. And He 
who is perfectly absolute, perfectly free, delights to 
absolve His creatures that He may bring them into 
that service which is the only freedom. 

With the word " absolute " you may connect one 
which is closely associated with it in the language of 
the schools, the word Relation. In its primitive 
meaning it has the sense of carrying back ; and this 
leading thought pervades all its other uses. Each 
relationship is always a reference, a carrying back, a 
looking to some head, some uniting point, acknowledg- 
ing it as its own necessary ground. You cannot for- 
get what an awful commentary upon this word was 
supplied by the history of France, when men boasted 
that they would be brothers; but forgetting that 
brothers are relations, that relationship means referring 
back, that a brotherhood implies a father turned the 
fraternal hug into a death-embrace. 

I wished to have taken notice of some other cases in 
illustration of my position, but I must have already 
exhausted your patience. I will, therefore, merely 
commend to your deep and reverent meditation one 
other word ; it is the word " Word " itself. In the first 
verse of St. John's Gospel you meet with the highest 
application which it is possible to make of human 
language. You hear Who it is from Whom all words 




have proceeded, and of Whose voice all words should 
be the echo. You find there that which is at once the 
ground and the pinnacle of all discourse, that which 
transfigures even ordinary converse into a mystery, 
and enables us to hear in the lispings of infancy the 
first notes of that harmony which is perfected in the 
songs of the Seraphim. 



I ASKED your President 2 whether he would rather 
that I spoke this evening of Books, or of Newspapers. 
He chose, wisely I doubt not, the subject of Books. I 
do not wish to compare these kinds of composition. I 
arn not anxious to ascertain, nor should I be able to 
ascertain, whether the octavo and quarto, or the flying 
sheet, exercise most power over our age, or which ex- 
ercises it best. Such an inquiry would take me more 
than a night, or a week, or a year ; perhaps the result, 
when we arrived at it, would not be worth much. 

There is another comparison, which seems to me 
far more important. Books and newspapers both exist 
for the sake of men. There were men before there 
were either books or newspapers, and if books or 
newspapers are ever put in the place of men, if we 
think more of them than of men, they will be curses 
to us instead of blessings. Whenever books have 

1 Delivered to the Leicester Liter.iry and Philosophical Society, 
Nov. 1865. 2 The Rev. D. Vaughan, of Leicester. 

Hi.] ON BOOKS. 61 

crushed the manhood of men, they have been taken 
from men. The earth has had to forget its books, 
that it might recover its men. When it has recovered 
them, they have produced books, which did not crush 
manhood, but called it forth, which showed what men 
had been, and might be. 

I propose to gather together a few examples, from 
different parts of history, which may illustrate this 
remark. If they strike you as very familiar examples, 
if you think I am telling you a very old tale, I shall 
not be sorry. My business is not with new things. 
But I believe old facts may always be fresh, and may 
give out a fresh meaning, for each new generation. 

I shall take you first to Egypt. You have all heard 
of the great Library which was once collected in the 
city of Alexandria. It was not gathered together by 
sovereigns like those who built the Pyramids. The 
monarch whose name is preserved in the name of 
Alexandria had subdued Egypt to Greece. The Greek 
Ptolemies ruled in it. They had the Greek passion 
for wisdom. They wished to make their Library a 
house for the wisdom of all ages ; chiefly for that 
which Greeks had contributed, which they supposed 
must be the best ; but also for the lore of Hebrews, or 
any other people, which could be rendered into the 
Greek tongue, and made available for the use of Greek 
readers and professors. Alexandria was full of such 
professors, men who could talk and write, as well as 
read, upon all topics in the visible and invisible world. 

But neither the Ptolemies, nor the Library, nor the 

62 ON BOOKS. [in. 

Professors, could prevent both Greece and Egypt from 
falling into the hands of a race which had not been 
trained among books, but amidst the hard work of 
camps. The Greeks could talk, but they had lost the 
power of doing. They could compose treatises ; they 
could not form men. The Romans wanted what they 
had, and had what they wanted. They knew little of 
literature ; they were men, and therefore they were 
capable of profiting by literature. Their statesmen and 
generals listened to the professors of Alexandria, and 
learnt more from them than the professors knew. The 
things which they disputed about, seemed to the 
Romans real things, things which concerned their life. 
There came a great change in Alexandria. There 
had been in it a colony of very learned Jews ; the 
Gospel of Christ began to be preached in it ; a Chris- 
tian Church arose in it. There were in that Church 
noble, brave men, who went through great persecution 
for the Name which they bore. They were also learned 
men. They studied both Greek and Hebrew books, 
believing that it was for the honour of Christ that they 
should do so. But the Church ceased to be persecuted. 
The Roman Emperor professed Christianity. Alexan- 
dria, like the other cities of the Empire, had powerful 
bishops. Some of these thought that they should be 
doing good service by destroying those books in the 
Library which had an idolatrous character. They 
could not kill idolatry in that way. It grew among 
themselves, and with it grew the taste for talk and 
dispute which had always characterized that city. The 

in.] ON BOOKS. 63 

Christian doc trio es were treated as subjects for the 
exercise of Greek ingenuity : as subjects also for furious 
mobs to settle with clubs and swords. There was 
apparently an earnest zeal for questions of faith ; but 
faith itself was gone. Then came a race in which it 
was alive. Ammon or Omar, the general of the 
Mahometans, believed in God, if he regarded Him 
chiefty as a sovereign, who was determined to sweep 
away idols and insincerities from the earth. The 
unmanly Alexandrians fell before the conquerors. 
But these had no special war with the Library. The 
story goes that Omar was asked to preserve it ; that 
he considered a while, and then answered, " If these 
books of the Greeks are contrary to the Koran, they 
ought to perish ; if they agree with it, there is no need 
of them." So the Library perished with the great 
buildings of the city. Some days, it is said, passed 
before all the books in it could be consumed. 

This sentence may have been put into Kaliph Omar's 
mouth, by the story-teller, as being characteristic of 
the Mahometans of his day. It would not have been 
appropriate to the Mahometans of a later day, for they 
became, in some places at least, great readers and 
translators of books, and patrons of authors. But 
whether the words were spoken or riot, the act of 
burning the Library is not, I think, one which we have 
need to weep over. Kaliph Omar and his soldiers 
could not destroy any of the great living books which 
had been produced in Greece, or in any other country 
than Greece. They could not destroy the poems of 

64 ON BOOKS. [HI. 

Homer, though there were multitudes of things in them 
that were contrary to the Koran. They could not de- 
stroy the histories of the nations that had existed before 
the Koran was thought of. They could not destroy 
that Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which 
the Koran had tried to improve, and which has lasted 
on, and has proved its strength, while the Koran has 
been proving its weakness. All that Kaliph Omar 
could do was to bear witness that what is not con- 
nected with the life of human beings, what discovers 
to us no truth of nature and no principle of God's 
government, what serves only to encourage pride and 
to feed controversy, had better cease to exist, and 
must cease to exist. The burning of the Alexandrian 
Library was the sign of much else that had to be burnt 
up at that time the outside polish and refinement 
of the world, which had to be burnt up, that the true 
foundation of all politeness and refinement might be 
discovered. God was preparing a better and truer 
civilization for men than the Greek civilization had ever 
been ; one which should be not for a few choice people, 
but for all manner of people. In due time, what was 
good and stable in the old world would be recovered ; 
but first there was to be a new world prepared for it. 

In this long story about the Alexandrian Library, 
I have given you a hint of what may happen when 
books are more thought of than human beings ; when 
they have accumulated, and men have been hidden. 
Now I will take you to a different part of the world 
one in which you and I are far more interested. 


We will see whether that has any lesson any more 
encouraging lesson to teach us. 

Just at the time when Kaliph Omar was busy in 
Egypt, the Anglo-Saxons in this island were under- 
going a great change. They had come here as fierce 
pirates some centuries before; they had swept away 
a civilization which the Romans had established among 
us ; they had fought fiercely with the old inhabitants ; 
they had fought fiercely among themselves. How could 
such men ever learn to care for books ? Divided as 
they were, they had in them a reverence for order. 
They reverenced the relations of father and child, of 
husband and wife ; they believed that there was a great 
battle between good and evil, between darkness and 
light, going on in the earth and under the earth. They 
believed that the light and good would some day 
prevail. Before the time I am speaking of, men had 
come over to them from Rome and said, " The God of 
all has established a great family in the world; He 
has sent His Son to claim us all as members of it. 
You may enter this family. Good has triumphed over 
evil ; the Kingdom of Light has proved itself stronger 
than the Kingdom of Darkness." The Saxons were 
slow to take in these words. They thought them well 
over before they accepted them. When they had' 
accepted them they often fell back into their old ways. 
But by degrees this message took fast hold of them. 
The kings confessed a higher King than themselves. 
The fathers believed in a heavenly Father. England 
became a Christian nation. And then this effect fol- 



lowed almost immediately : schools sprang up. The 
people understood that there was a cultivation needed 
for the ground, and that there was just as real a cul- 
tivation needed for their own selves. Not only great 
men, but the humblest men, had a right to share in 
this cultivation. Bede was the son of a poor herdsman. 
Bede came to a school in Northumbria ; he learnt what 
he could learn at that time about the stars; he be- 
came an Astronomer. He studied the force of words, 
and how words are bound to each other; he was a 
Grammarian. He studied how men reason with each 
other, and converse with each other ; he became what 
we call a Logician. These studies he pursued, for he 
believed that there was another study, called Theology, 
or the study of God, to which they all ministered. 
And, what concerns us more, he wrote a History. He 
thought the deeds of his forefathers, and our forefathers, 
ought to be known. He composed a History, which 
tells us much which is true, and tells us what men 
thought to be true at that time, which is almost as 
precious to us, if we want to be truly acquainted with 
the minds of those from whom we have sprung. But 
Bede's history, and the works of another great English- 
man, Alcuin, who studied at York, and taught the 
sons of Charlemagne, are Latin Books. There is, indeed, 
a beautiful story I regard it as a most veritable story 
of a young peasant, Csedmon, who wept and prayed 
because he was asked to compose some song at a feast, 
who was inspired to bring forth a poem in his own 
Saxon tongue about the creation of the world. I 


gladly own him as the ancestor of that noble race of 
English singers, 

" Who have walked in glory and in joy, 
Following their plough, along the mountain side." 

But he was the exception to a rule. Literature had 
not yet become Saxon. Latin was usurping the place 
of the true native speech, which was taken to be fit only 
for boors. And then, on the other side, the manhood 
of the Saxon was going whilst he had been acquiring so 
much tameness and civility. The rulers were fancying 
that it was a more godly thing to be monks than kings. 
So the people were forgetting, as was natural, that it 
was a godly thing to obey. Under the name of Chris- 
tianity, all the Barbarian vices slothfulness, cowardice, 
indifference were spreading far and wide, and striking 
their roots deeply. So the lessons of the Bible about 
families and nations became unintelligible to them : all 
books became unintelligible along with that. There 
was need of some Kaliph Omar here, as in Egypt. 
The Mahometans did not come; but the Pagan 
Danes, or Northmen, came. They destroyed monas- 
teries, churches, libraries. The work of two centuries 
seemed to be destroyed. By the middle of the ninth 
century, we are told, Alfred could not find a teacher 
south of the Humber to give him instruction in Latin. 
That young prince could not read, it is said, till he 
had reached his twelfth year. 

And I venture to think it was well for him, and 
well for the land, that he could not. For if he did not 
study Latin, he was getting into his own heart the old 

68 ON BOOKS. [ill. 

songs which his Saxon forefathers loved ; if he did not 
read books in his youth, he was learning to be a brave 
man. There is another school, besides that in which 
logic, and rhetoric, and astronomy, are taught. Alfred 
had to go into that school, and to sit in the lowest form 
in it, till his conceit and vanity were broken down in 
him, till he was fitted to be a true ruler of men by suf- 
fering with them. He took a first-class degree in that 
school of suffering and humiliation ; he came out of it 
fit for any work. His first work was to fight. The 
invaders were in the land ; they must be driven out of 
it, or be reduced to quiet subjects in the midst of it. 
Till that business was done, no other could well be 
attempted. He had to do it thoroughly. Englishmen 
were to be taught that they were the inhabitants of an 
island ; that the sea was to be their element, as it had 
been the element of their ancestors. Pirates had come 
upon them in ships ; they must have ships to keep out 
piracy. Then, if they were not to be a people subject 
to other men's wit, they must feel that they had laws 
of their own ; they must be made to understand that 
those laws were to be obeyed. Alfred brought them to 
this understanding. He did not make a code for them, 
as we used to fancy. He did what was far better. He 
enabled them to understand the worth of their old 
Saxon customs and traditions. He led them to connect 
these with the Commandments which had been given to 
the Israelites, who were to be the teachers and blessings 
of all the families of the earth. He trained them to 
feel their relationship to each other, and the responsi- 


bilities which were involved in relationships. All this 
was necessary before they could care again for books, 
or could profit by books. But the King knew that they 
needed these. He knew what books had become to 
himself since he had found out his wants, and had 
begun to do his work. A king taught by hard blessings 
that there was a higher Ruler over him whom he could 
trust, would have his people know what that Ruler was, 
and how they might trust Him : he would give them 
a Bible. He had looked back to his forefathers when 
his own condition was saddest ; he would have them 
understand what they could of their forefathers. They 
should have the History which the peasant Bede had 
bequeathed them. If ships were going forth from this 
island, his people should know whither their ships 
had sailed, or might sail ; they should have the best 
geography he could procure for them. He had suffered, 
and had wanted consolation ; they should hear what 
consolation the brave Roman statesman Boethius had 
found when he was in a lonely prison expecting death. 
All these books Alfred gave his people, in their own 
tongue in the Saxon tongue. He had no wish to 
disparage the Latin, which he had studied, arid which 
he would keep alive; but the speech of the nation ought 
to be dearer to them than any other; itwas dearer to him. 
Here is the starting-point of our nation's literature, 
and I wish you to consider the beginning well, because 
I believe you may find in it the explanation of all its 
different periods of progress or of decline. It does not 
begin from some learned schoolmen ; it does not begin 


from some condescending monarch who patronizes 
learned schoolmen because he hopes that they will 
magnify him, and hand down his name to after ages : 
its origin is from a king who is a man of toil and sorrow, 
of greater toil and sorrow than even his outward history 
shows him to be, for he had a complaint which never 
ceased to torment him from his youth up, though, as he 
had prayed might be the case, it never kept him from 
any enterprise ; it only made him careful of every 
moment of the time which might be so short. The 
books were needed for citizens and men ; those who did 
not care to be citizens and men would not care for them. 
It was a glorious dawn of literature and of civiliza- 
tion which shone upon England in the time of Alfred. 
It was again to be clouded over ; the Saxons were once 
more to lose their strength and manliness ; once more 
to lose their sense of obedience, and their sense of free- 
dom. Kings grew feeble ; nobles grew ambitious and 
dangerous ; priests thought that they were sent into the 
world, not to be the servants of ah 1 , but the masters 
of all. Another set of Northmen must come to restore, 
by seeming to destroy. But now they were not Pagan 
Northmen, not barbarous pirates. The Normans of the 
eleventh century had become Christians, without losing 
their own love of enterprise. They were the strongest 
people, the most fit to govern ; on the whole they were 
also the most educated people of that time. They con- 
quered the Saxons. It could not be otherwise : all sub- 
sequent generations may rejoice that it was so. The 
tribulation was sore, the discipline was tremendous. If 

HI.] ON BOOKS. 71 

there had been no one to regulate it but the Norman 
kings, it would have been intolerable; but then the 
Norman kings were only instruments in the hands of 
a wiser and more gracious Ruler. They were able to 
teach law and obedience to those who had forgotten law 
and obedience ; they were able to make men, who had 
mistaken lawlessness for freedom, understand what free- 
dom is, by feeling what bondage is ; and they were able 
to give Englishmen books Latin books, it is true, like 
those which had proved insufficient for their fathers, 
but still books of English history; books which are 
especially valuable, because they connect the general 
life of England with the life of some particular neigh- 
bourhood, some monastery which was set down in the 
midst of one of its counties. Moreover, the Saxon 
tongue was not dead : it was driven out of the law- 
courts by the Norman French, it was driven out of 
the schools by the Latin. It was still written by some 
who were preserving the chronicle of Saxon suffering; 
it was still spoken at the hearths of the people. And 
the people, though stripped of their lands, were ac- 
quiring a new kind of power; they were becoming 
manufacturers. They were getting charters from their 
Norman kings : they were beginning to form the corpo- 
rations of towns. In due time, when there were men 
who wanted a native tongue, when it could be again 
the speech of free citizens and free men, it would come 
forth purified, expanded, strengthened, to be an English 
language, to be the organ of an English literature. 
The different steps in the development of this 

72 ON BOOKS. [HI. 

language, how it incorporated into itself both the 
French and the Latin which were dwelling beside it, 
what changes of structure it underwent; these are 
points which I leave philologers to discuss. I pass 
over to its first essays, and to the very interesting 
question how these were connected with the growth of 
our English Constitution, especially with that wonder- 
ful step in their growth, the appearance of a House of 
Commons, to represent the freeholders of the counties 
and the freemen of the towns. I must only stop to 
notice how important the reign of Edward III. and 
the war with France, which wrought so many calamities 
on both nations, are in this respect. The war taught 
the King and his nobles, who had vaunted of their 
Norman descent, to claim the name of Englishmen, 
and so to claim kindred with the Saxons who fought 
in their ranks. At no time was there more disposition 
in these nobles to be proud of their birth ; proud to 
call themselves knights and gentlemen. It was an 
especial blessing, therefore, that the very ambition of 
the King should in this way compel them to appeal to 
the sympathies which they had in common with all 
classes of their countrymen. 

I allude to this point because it is very closely con- 
nected with the history of English books, and especially 
of a book which was to give an altogether new start 
to our literature, and which was to exercise a mighty 
influence upon all the after-stages of it. John WyclifFe 
was an Oxford school-man ; he had struggled for the 
rights of his University against the Italian friars who, 

HI.] ON BOOKS. 73 

he thought, were invading them, and were obtaining a 
preponderating influence there. In the course of that 
conflict he acquired more and more dislike to the teach- 
ing of the friars generally, as representatives of a foreign 
Bishop, more and more of a native English feeling. 
That feeling made him the champion of the rights of 
the sovereign against those of the ecclesiastics. Had he 
stopped there, he might have ended with being a service- 
able courtier of Edward III. ; but he was not to stop 
there. He was to become a teacher of the English 
people, from whom he had sprung. I need not tell 
inhabitants of Leicestershire that he became identified 
with the country life of England, that the Oxford 
scholar passed his last days in Lutterworth. 

The books which he wrote, so far as they were 
merely controversial books denouncing his opponents, 
may have some value for the ecclesiastical reader ; but 
I should not care to notice them here; they would 
have left no stamp upon subsequent times, whatever 
they might have done for his own. But the book by 
which he really spoke to the hearts of the English 
tradesmen and farmers was his translation of the 
Bible. This was not an attack upon friars, but a 
living substitute for their legends and fictions. It 
was written in letters, but it came to the English 
citizens like a voice which was speaking to them, 
rather than as something which was to be spelt out. 
It spoke to them as men busy in handicrafts, as men 
who had the earth to till and subdue. It spoke to 
them as husbands, fathers, citizens. It spoke to them 

74 ON BOOKS. [HI. 

as men ; as having that in them which united them to 
the doctors and the nobles, to people in the times of 
old, to people in the farthest corners of the earth. As 
a mere translation, it is of only secondary value, for it 
is taken from the Latin. The worth of it lies in its 
English ; it has fixed the language, it has become a 
ground of the literature. No other book could have 
been that no book which did not address itself 
directly to the people, no book which did not come 
with an authority I do not mean with an ecclesiastical 
or state authority the ecclesiastics and the King 
forbade the reading of it I mean with the autho- 
rity which the people of Judsea felt when they stood 
about the mount, and One opened His mouth who 
spake to them, not as a scribe, but as a King. 

It was in the days of Wycliffe as it had been in the 
days of Alfred. This book could not come forth as an 
English book for the English people without calling 
forth other books. The sentence attributed to Kaliph 
Omar was again shown to be entirely inapplicable to 
our Scriptures. The earliest poetry belongs to the 
same age with WyclifFe's Bible* Chaucer was possibly 
the friend of Wycliffe certainly shared many of his 
sympathies and antipathies. He loved the priest, or, 
as he was called, the secular priest, who went among 
the people, and cared for them as his fellow-country- 
men; he intensely disliked the friars, who flattered 
them and cursed them, and in both ways governed 
them and degraded them. His education had been 
difierent from Wycliffe's, his early poetical powers had 


been called forth by the ladies and gentlemen of the 
court. He mingled much French with his speech, as 
they did ; he acquired from them a kind of acquaint- 
ance with life which Wycliffe could not obtain in the 
Oxford schools. Had he remained under their influ- 
ence he might have been merely a very musical court 
singer; but he entered into fellowship with common 
citizens. He became a keen observer of all the differ- 
ent forms of life and societ} 7 in his time a keen 
observer, and, as all such are, genial, friendly, humor- 
ous, able to understand men about him by sympa- 
thizing with them, able to understand the stories of 
the past by his experience of the present. Without 
being a reformer like Wycliffe, he helped forward the 
Reformation by making men acquainted with them- 
selves and their fellows, by stripping off disguises, and 
by teaching them to open their eyes to the beautiful 
world which lay about them. Chaucer is the genuine 
specimen of an English poet a type of the best who 
were to come after him ; with cordial affection for men 
and for nature; often tempted to coarseness, often 
yielding to his baser nature in his desire to enter into 
all the different experiences of men ; apt through this 
desire, and through his hatred of what was insincere, 
to say many things of which he had need to repent, 
and of which he did repent; but never losing his 
loyalty to what was pure, his reverence for what was 
divine. He is an illustration of the text from which I 
started. The English books which live through ages 
are those which connect themselves with human life 

76 ON BOOKS. [ill. 

and action. His other poems, though graceful and 
harmonious, are only remembered, because in his 
"Canterbury Tales" he has come directly into con- 
tact with the hearts and thoughts, the sufferings and 
sins, of men and women, and has given the clearest 
pictures we possess of all the distinctions and occupa- 
tions in his own day. 

We must always remember in this day the recol- 
lection is especially needful that these great English 
books were brought forth when there were no printing 
presses. The discovery of printing is a very grand 
one ; nothing that has been said of it is worthy of its 
importance. But we shall not estimate its worth if we 
do not reverence words more than the mere letters 
which express them, and the letters more than the 
mere blocks by which they are spread abroad with 
such unspeakable rapidity. If all the machinery should 
continue, and we should have nothing to express by it 
if we should have all opportunity for uttering thoughts, 
and there should be no thoughts to utter, we may 
become miserably poor in the midst of our treasures. 
If we would understand what printing has done for 
books, we must understand first what makes books of 
worth why men can care to distribute them, or to 
read them. Moreover, if you would do true honour 
to the invention of printing, you must think not first 
of its enormous achievements, but first of the men in 
whose minds the thought of it arose of all their toil 
and sorrow before they brought their thought into any 
shape, of all the material difficulties which hindered 


them from making it available for others. You must 
go into the workshop of Gutenberg, or Faust, and 
look if you can at that more wonderful workshop, the 
brain and heart of the labourer. You will find there 
things good and evil ; a light seeming to dawn on him 
which he is sure has come from some high source, and 
which is to bring great blessings to men ; pride that he 
should receive it, mean suspicions of his fellows ; eager- 
ness to have the credit of the idea, anger that some 
one else should have a share in it. A history, sad 
often, and also bright, is this of discoveries, but lead- 
ing at last to the conclusion that no piece of machinery 
could ever come into existence if there were not a spirit 
to devise it, and work it out ; that inventions appear 
just when they are wanted ; that the men who give 
them to us deserve all honour for them, and yet that we 
cannot easily tell, and ought not to be able to tell, 
which has most to do with the gift, because it is in 
very deed a gift of God to man, and the best and 
wisest are only instruments in imparting it. 

Through whatever hands it came, the gift did come ; 
and from that time we begin to speak of books in the 
modern sense. Still, I believe we shall not find that 
this modern sense makes any difference, even the 
slightest, in our principle. The same law which ap- 
plies to the MSS. in the Alexandrian Library, applies 
to the printed books in the Vatican or the British 
Museum. Books rise and fall, live and die, by the 
same law in the reign of Queen Victoria as in the 
reign of King Alfred. Take a few instances drawn 

78 ON BOOKS. [HI. 

from the times after the invention of printing. The 
fifteenth century, to which it belongs, was, what we 
call, the century of the Revival of Letters. Not that 
letters had ever died. The books of the twelfth, thir- 
teenth, and fourteenth centuries on morals, metaphy- 
sics, logic, and physics, distract us not by their lack of 
thoughts, but by the multitude of their thoughts. But 
people had become weary of what seemed so far from 
human life. Then Constantinople fell into the hands 
of the Turks. The Greek scholars spread themselves 
abroad in the West of Europe. They brought with 
them the old histories and poets of Greece which they 
could interpret. The men of the West, the merchants 
of Italy, who were full of life and enterprise, could 
understand them and delight in them, as well as in 
the Greek statues which exhibited the beauty of the 
human form and countenance. At the same time 
Italians, and many besides them, began to say that 
the old Latin, which had been spoken in the days 
when Rome was in its glory, had been forgotten, and 
a very barbarous language substituted for it. This 
pursuit of the old Latin and Greek books is what 
bears the name of the Revival of Letters. Some 
think it was altogether for the good of Europe, some 
think it introduced a great amount of heathenism. I 
think that it was good, because God ordained it, because 
the time was come when these old languages and old 
books were wanted; because the language and the 
books which had been accepted as good for some 
centuries had lost their hold upon the hearts of men, 


and could not help them any more. But the fine 
people in Europe did unquestionably fall back in their 
hearts into the old Heathen worship, and they would 
have done it much more if there had not been a set of 
common people, of plain human beings, who wanted 
something altogether different from that. 

Englishmen did not share much in this movement ; 
they were too much occupied. It was the time of our 
terrible civil war. English boys, however, began to 
profit by the new learning. Our great schools of Win- 
chester and Eton were set up at this time; there 
youths learnt the force of words, the laws which we 
are obliged to obey in the use of them. They were by 
degrees to become acquainted with the great poets of 
the old world, to understand that what was spoken 
centuries before, if it expressed the thoughts, even the 
perplexed thoughts, of human beings, might instruct 
them and quicken them. A book which belongs to 
these times bore the same witness. There had been a 
dream in the minds of Britons of a King Arthur, who 
had fought the battles of the land, and of the Christian 
Church, against the Saxon invader. The traditions of 
him were all vague and uncertain ; but they embodied 
the idea of a king who was such as a king ought to be 
struggling hard, bringing others around him to live 
with him and work with him, trained by suffering, 
disappointment, desertion ; failing upon earth, certain 
to have a life somewhere else which should affect the 
earth. These traditions were connected with our own 
soil. They combined themselves with thoughts of 


Christian chivalry, which had belonged to the very 
people whom Arthur had fought against ; they pointed 
to a King who must have greater sympathies with men 
than Arthur had, who must have a perfection which 
he could not have. These legends were gathered up 
in the midst of that dark, wicked time of the civil 
wars. A shadow might be cast upon them from the 
sins of that time. But they showed that men could 
never cease to aspire, and hope, and believe in some- 
thing better than they see. They exercised a great 
influence over the poets who lived in the time of Queen 
Elizabeth. They never proved their might more, nor 
produced greater fruits, than they have done in the 
reign of Queen Victoria. 

This was the picture of an imaginary King. Not 
long after there appeared the picture of an imaginary 
Commonwealth. It was written in Latin, and was 
called the " Utopia ;" or, the Good Place, the Good 
Reign. But it was written by an Englishman, a very 
honest, brave, learned, and graceful Englishman. It 
was the work of a lawyer, one of the best of English 
lawyers; though it was written about a place that 
never existed, it laid bare corruptions that did exist, 
corruptions that were passing under Sir Thomas 
More's eyes, in his own country. Like a good man, 
he spoke most of the evils of his own profession, those 
which he knew best and had most to do with the 
bribery, and denials of justice, from which his own 
hands were quite pure. But he also exposed the evils 
which he saw in the Church of his days; he spoke 


plainly and severely of its need of reformation. Never- 
theless, when the Reformation came in his age, Sir 
Thomas More did not like it. He would have heartily 
supported one which had been managed by scholars 
and accomplished men; he did -not sympathize with 
one which appealed directly to the sympathies of 
common men, suffering from the miseries of the world, 
and of their own sins. The brave Sir Thomas More 
would have checked such a Reformation as that by 
any means ; he rather died on the scaffold than in any 
way sanction it. I should be ashamed not to feel a 
great reverence for him. It is strongest when I think 
him most wrong. But neither he, nor the best, nor 
the worst man could stop that which was necessary 
for the life of nations and of men. It was not in the 
power of divines to turn the current in their way, nor 
of monarchs to turn it in their way. Both did their 
best, and both failed. There was a power at work 
which they could not counteract. They could not 
hinder the German people from reading the Book 
which Luther translated for them; they could not 
hinder that Book from giving a new form and power 
to the German language, and a new direction to the 
thoughts of its people ; and they could not hinder the 
English from having the same Book given to them, 
not any longer as a mere translation, like Wycliffe's, 
from the Latin, but from the tongues in which it was 
written. The Revival of Letters had done this for the 
People. The learning which the scholars would have 

kept to themselves, and for their own glory, had found 



its chief result in the wisdom and consolation which it 
ministered to the common wayfarer. 

Again the old lesson was brought home to men. This 
Book could not, as Kaliph Omar thought that his sacred 
book might, swallow up other books; it must beget 
books; it must call forth a literature. The period of 
the Reformation is the period from which books in 
the native tongues, books speaking to the hearts of 
men as men, and not to mere learned men books 
which a nation can claim as its own may be said 
fairly to commence. We have had our full share of the 
blessing. Our greatest poets, Shakespeare and Spenser, 
are the children of the Reformation. The historical 
plays of Shakespeare could never have been produced 
in any time before the age of Queen Elizabeth. They 
express the national spirit which was awakened in 
that age. They show how Englishmen were feeling 
their relation to their forefathers, their interest in the 
land before they came into it. And the poet himself 
learned to understand the chronicles of his country by 
mixing with the citizens of his country. He knew 
what they must have been in the days of Henry IV- 
by what they were in his own day ; he knew what 
Roman citizens must have been in the days of Julius 
Csesar in the same way. He could understand French- 
men, Italians, Spaniards, and see their different pecu- 
liarities ; for that man is most just, on the whole, to 
every other nation, who has the strongest feeling of 
attachment to his own. And Shakespeare was dwell- 
ing in the midst of a nation which was struggling for 

ill.] ON BOOKS. 83 

its existence against powers that would have swal- 
lowed it up. Again, I believe that in no time but one 
in which men had been mightily occupied, as they 
were at that time, with the struggles of the conscience, 
with the sense of moral evil, could such a play as that 
of Macbeth have been written. The dagger which the 
king saw before him when the murder was to be done, 
the spot which his wife could never get out of her 
hands after it was done, these are testimonies to the 
battle of light and darkness in a man, and to the 
terrible retribution when the darkness has prevailed, 
which one finds in no later works. Having once been 
written, they may teach us always. 

Edmund Spenser, in his "Faery Queen," shows how a 
cultivated and refined man, mixing with all the grace- 
ful statesmen and scholars of his time, was influenced 
by the same causes. If I spoke to you at all of him, 
I should soon weary your patience, for I could not 
speak briefly ; I have so much regard and affection for 
him. I only mention him as one of the most remark- 
able instances that great poems are composed not in 
easy, lazy times, but when there is most work doing, 
and when there are the most strong and energetic men 
to do it. Spenser was fond of allegory. If he had 
lived in a leisurely age he might only have been an 
inventor of conceits and allegories. But he was a 
patriot; he visited Ireland and saw its miseries; he 
loved his queen ; he dreamed of a more glorious queen 
than she had ever been. So, whether his book is 
called an allegory or not, it tells of real and not sham 

84 ON BOOKS. [ill. 

fights, fights in which you and I are engaged. When 
we read him, we need not trouble ourselves much 
about Fairy-land. Here, in this land, amidst our own 
hills and valleys, in the streets of that city where 
Spenser was born and died, in the streets of every 
English town, we shall find plenty of evil enchanters, 
and -also divine helpers who can overcome them for 
us all. The same lesson I believe might be drawn, 
if I had time to draw it, from the history of our 
Civil Wars in the seventeenth century. Literature 
had been a profession in the reign of James I., a 
court luxury in the reign of Charles I. Then came a 
tremendous conflict. All the passions, all the hopes, 
that had been slumbering in men's hearts were awak- 
ened. To these we owe some of the noblest inspira- 
tions, in verse and prose, which stir the hearts of 
Englishmen in this day. They came from men of the 
most opposite opinions. We owe Jeremy Taylor, the 
prince of Royalists and Episcopalians, Milton, the 
grandest of the Puritans and Republicans, to the faith 
which the Civil Wars enkindled in both, to the suffer- 
ings which both endured. And the man who was 
better known to the people of England than either of 
these, the man who has expressed the deepest anguish 
and the highest hopes, John Bunyan, owes the power 
which he has exercised, first no doubt to the reality 
of his own inward struggles, but much also to 
the prison at Bedford in which he dreamed his true 

I am far however from meaning to say that all good 

HI.] ON BOOKS. 85 

books must have this origin. The books which we 
connect most with the early part of the eighteenth 
century, bear few marks of suffering ; in general they 
express ease and equanimity. They would not be true 
representations of the men who wrote them, or of the 
life of that time, if they had been otherwise ; for, just 
as much as any to which I have alluded hitherto, they 
were not mere books, but faithful exhibitions of life 
of a life not very elevated, somewhat frivolous, but 
belonging to English men and English women, and 
therefore deserving to be studied by English men and 
English women. And if Addison and Steele in the 
" Spectator " show us this side of life, Johnson in his 
"Rambler" and his "Rasselas" shows us the very 
opposite a hard wrestling to maintain existence and 
reconcile difficulties; discontent, and yet courage and 
patience to endure, and hope for something better, if 
he could not see clearly what it was. These writers 
and many more help us to understand that time ; what 
it was in itself, and what it was to bring forth. Be- 
sides these, there were a number of mere book-makers, 
who had no sense of the sacredness of words, who 
thought they might use them as they liked for any 
mercenary or spiteful purpose. These are they whom 
Pope describes in his "Dunciad," who might have 
introduced such a reign of dulness and darkness as he 
predicted at the end of it, if there had not been other 
powers at work than theirs, if earnest and tremendous 
questions concerning the existence of men and nations 
had not arisen, which required another satisfaction 

86 ON BOOKS. [HI. 

than that which these books or any books could 

Mr. Wordsworth complains in one of his sonnets 
that the French Revolution, unlike our English Civil 
Wars, was barren alike of books and men. I do not 
know whether he could have justified that assertion as 
far as France is concerned. I am sure that an asser- 
tion of the most opposite kind would be true, if we 
look at the effect of that Revolution and of the wars 
which followed it upon other nations, especially upon 
our own. We owe, I conceive, to the thoughts which 
it engendered, many men and many books. The poet 
who brought that charge is an illustration of my 
meaning. He found an artificial diction established 
among poets, which concealed, as he judged, poverty 
of feeling and thought ; he endeavoured to show, and 
he did show most effectually, that thoughts in which 
all human beings have an interest may be best ex- 
pressed in simple, manly English speech. He exagge- 
rated, most would say, the worth of the speech .of 
peasants above all other speech. But the exaggeration 
was a sign that he had been born into an age which 
was meant to assert the superiority of that which is 
essentially and universally human, to that which is 
merely distinctive of particular classes. That was the 
fruit which he, a loyal Englishman, deeply attached to 
the institutions of his soil, derived from the levelling 
doctrines of the Revolution. He rejected them utterly 
so far as they led him to scorn the past, or throw 
away one blessing which it had left us. He would 

I1L ] ON BOOKS. 87 

not reject the great truth which was hidden under all 
their wildness, and which sober Englishmen could turn 
to the best account, that there is a priceless grandeur 
in every human being, and that neither literature nor 
society can exist unless they confess that grandeur 
and seek to awaken the sense of it. I cannot doubt 
that the books which have acted most upon our gene- 
ration, from whatever quarters they have come, have 
derived their force mainly from the practical witness 
which they have borne to this truth. I do not be- 
lieve that the interest which we have taken in Scott's 
poems, or Scott's novels, was owing chiefly to their 
exhibition of great knights and noble personages, 
though no doubt this has contributed to their fame. 
I believe the genial sympathy which he showed with 
the Scotch people, his Jeanie Deans and Edie Ochil- 
tree, have been the real and permanent strength of his 
works. To these we turn with ever fresh pleasure; 
and it is a consolation to reflect that so much genial 
sympathy with human beings 4 could have existed in a 
man writing during the faded and artificial days of 
the Regency, sharing in the favours of the Regent, 
and commending himself to the affection and interest 
of the society which was most affected by the vanity 
and frippery of that time. A seed of better life was 
kept alive in that society, to germinate and bear fruit, 
one hopes, hereafter. 

These seeds were not a little stifled by a set of 
stories which succeeded Sir Walter Scott's, and which 
bore the name of Fashionable Novels. Most persons 

88 ON BOOKS. [ill. 

of my age will remember them. I trust they are long 
since extinct, and have no influence whatever on the 
present generation. They address themselves to that 
most vulgar of all feelings, our wish to know what is 
going on among a set of people somewhat above our 
own level, that we may if possible catch some of the 
most insignificant parts of their behaviour, and mimic 
their luxuries. To these have succeeded the Sensa- 
tional Novels, which minister to another kind of 
desire, the desire to be startled with events and com- 
binations of events which are never likely to happen, 
there being nothing, it would seem, in the actual 
world "of human beings, or in the world of nature, 
which can cause us any wonder. There are some 
admirable writers, female writers especially, who have 
supplied our best antidote to such morbid excitements. 
They have lifted the veil which conceals from us the 
struggles and sufferings of those whom we are meet- 
ing every day ; they have shown us something of the 
hearts of those whom we only knew by their want 
of the good things upon which we pride ourselves. 
There is nothing sensational in such revelations; but 
they may be more terrific, and more cheering, than all 
fantastic enormities ever were. One such writer has 
just gone from us, and will be long remembered by 
those who know that her Mary Bartons and her 
Libbie Marshes describe what she knew, and express 
inward, not fictitious, sympathies. I am sure she 
rejoiced once, and must still rejoice, that she made 
a few persons understand better the condition of a 

HI.] ON BOOKS. 89 

great English town forgive the offences and sins, and 
honour the manliness and womanliness, of those who 
toil and groan in it ; and that she was never tempted 
to seek a temporary and mischievous reputation by 
catering to the appetites of any of her sex or ours 
who prefer sentiment to humanity, falsehood to 

Sir Walter Scott has also kindled a healthy desire 
among us for real histories, not merely historical 
novels. The demand has been met by many authors, 
whose patient industry as well as their power of ex- 
hibiting acts and the sources of acts, surely promise 
that they shall live. Charles Lamb said in one of his 
exquisite essays, that there were some histories writ- 
ten in the last age which cannot be called books at 
all. They were merely the pasteboard covers, lettered 
"History of England," or "History of the World," 
which careful librarians put into their shelves when 
their books are absent. Some of the Histories that 
our age has produced are books in the truest sense of 
the word. They illustrate great periods in our own 
annals, and in the annals of other countries. They 
show what a divine discipline has been at work to 
form men; they teach us that there is such a discipline 
at work to form us into men. That is the test to 
which I have urged that all books must at last be 
brought; if they -do not bear it, their doom is fixed. 
They may be light or heavy, the penny sheet or the 
vast folio ; they may speak of things seen or unseen ; 
of Science or Art; of what has been or what is to 

90 ON BOOKS. [ill. 

be; they may amuse us or weary us, flatter us or 
scorn us ; if they do not assist to make us better 
and more substantial men, they are only provid- 
ing fuel for a fire larger, and more utterly destruc- 
tive, than that which consumed the Library of the 



I AM going to speak of the use and abuse of News- 
papers. Do not let this title mislead you. Do not 
fancy that I mean to tell you of some newspapers 
which are doing good to the community, and of some 
which are doing evil. Do not suppose that I have 
some scheme of a newspaper in my head which would 
be useful to you and to the world, and which would 
not be capable of abuse. There may be great differ- 
ences in the newspapers which are in circulation, daily 
or weekly, through England; but I never met with 
one which I did not think might be abused to bad 
purposes, or which I did not think might be turned 
to some good purpose if we knew how. I may have 
dreamed of a perfect newspaper, as I may have dreamed 
of a perfect physician, or lawyer, or divine; but I 
never saw one, nor expect to see one. I believe if I 
tried to produce one according to my notions, it would 
have all the defects of those that exist now, and per- 
haps none of their merits. 

1 Delivered about 1852 in South London. 


Understand, then, that I do not come among you 
for the purpose of praising, or censuring, newspaper 
writers or newspaper editors. They would care little 
for my praises, and profit little by my censures. Pro- 
bably there are none of them here; and I would rather 
speak to those who are here of what concerns them. 
You and I read newspapers. It is not of so much 
importance to us to inquire whether we might have 
some better food than we have, as to consider how we 
may make the most of what we have, how we may 
counteract what is poisonous in it, and bring out what 
is nourishing. Roger Bacon is said to have trembled 
when the might of gunpowder was made known to 
him, and to have suppressed the discovery. Which of 
us would think now of complaining that it had been 
discovered, and that the system of our wars has been 
altogether changed by it ? Which of us thinks it safe 
to forget that there is an explosive force in gun- 
powder, and that children should not play with it? 
Every newspaper declares that it possesses a mysteri- 
ous and tremendous power; nearly every newspaper 
warns us that its rival and contemporary turns that 
power to mischief. We have need, therefore, to be on 
our guard. Let us try, if we can, to turn this power 
against our enemies, the enemies of our country, the 
enemies of each one of us. Let us try that it may not 
undermine and extinguish that which is most dear 
and precious to us. 

I am going to speak first of the use of newspapers. 
Again I must remind you that I do not mean of some 


one particular newspaper, but of that kind of litera- 
ture which we find in any newspaper that we take up. 
I will show you how sincere I am in this profession 
by the course which I shall follow in treating the 
subject. There is a great difference of course in the 
ability with which the leading articles in different 
papers are written ; those leading articles are written 
in support of different opinions and parties. But I 
shall not speak first of the leading articles; I shall 
mention the other contents of the papers before I 
come to them, and, when I do come to them, what 
I shall say will not be to fix your thoughts upon the 
cleverness of this argument or the stupidity of that, 
upon the public spirit which is displayed by those 
who support one cause, and the want of patriotism in 
those who support another. What I say will have 
equal reference to Whigs, and Tories, and Radicals, to 
those who maintain one ecclesiastical maxim or an- 
other, to those who write most carefully and ably, or 
most loosely and feebly. 

Perhaps you will think that there is one side of the 
paper, one sheet in some journals, which I may pass 
over without notice that which contains the Adver- 
tisements. I am far from claiming that privilege. I 
believe we may make great use of these advertise- 
ments, and that not merely when we want to find 
a place, or a person to fill it; not merely when we 
have got something to sell, or when there is something 
we need to buy ; not merely when there is some friend 
of ours going out in a ship, or coming in by one ; but 


when we have no special occasions for which we turn 
over the columns in that strange miscellany, when we 
merely let our eyes wander, as we sometimes do, over 
houses and servants and shops and vessels and books, 
without knowing very well what we are looking for ; 
just as we might watch the queer forms in the fire in 
the dusk of the evening. It is a curious and motley 
assemblage ; that at least we must feel, a great heap 
and chaos of things, that are somehow helping to make 
up this world in which we are dwelling. Might not 
we stop just for a moment or two to think of that, to 
recollect what a number of wants and wishes are set 
down here, and what a number of persons are trying, 
each in his own way, to gratify them ? Before any, 
the shortest of these advertisements, was taken to the 
office of the newspaper, and the three or five or six 
shillings paid for it, how much may have passed in 
the mind of the advertiser ! Take, for instance, the 
simplest case of a cook or a housemaid wanting a 
place. I will not choose the opposite case, and en- 
large on all the doubts and perplexities of a master or 
mistress parting with a servant and looking out for a 
new one, though that might open curious chapters in 
domestic history. I would speak rather of those anxi- 
ous, terrible moments they may be, when a poor man 
or woman, who knows of no other honest way of get- 
ting a livelihood but this, and perhaps has a mother 
and sisters dependent upon earnings to be got in 
this way, tries one family after another, and then, as 
a last resource, determines to run the risk of "the 


paper." Think of all that has gone before this, and of 
all the waiting for news after it; the uncertainty 
about the letter to A. B. or C. D. at the post-office, 
the hope of some particular place which looks very 
promising, but which happens to have been filled up 
the day before. Bring before yourselves just a few of 
the disappointments, and wearinesses, and temptations, 
that have come to some three or four out of the num- 
bers that are stating their wants day after day, and I 
believe you will have already got some use out of the 
newspaper. For is it not a most useful thing to know 
a little more about our fellow-creatures, and the great 
or the little things which are occupying or disturbing 
them ? If you had a map of London spread out 
before you, or if you looked down upon it from the 
top of St. Paul's, or of the Colosseum in the Regent's 
Park, you would not have such a panoramic view of 
the streets and houses as you have in a large sheet of 
advertisements. There you see the outsides of the 
houses and some indistinguishable figures walking 
about in the streets ; here you have a glimpse into 
the insides of them, some little hint of what these 
people are walking about for, of some of the thoughts 
that are going on in their hearts. That I think is a 
far more wonderful thing. And there is this advan- 
tage in the way we arrive at our knowledge. We 
cannot gratify a little, petty, prying, vulgar curiosity 
about the circumstances or the schemes of our neigh- 
bours. We do not know who these people are, most of 
them, who are wanting this thing or that. The shop- 


keepers, indeed, who are advertising their goods, put 
out their names very plainly and in large letters, that 
we may know where to look for them. But all those 
notices, which contain so much of secret history, only 
tell us of some fellow-citizen, some fellow-creature of 
ours, not who he is, or any gossip about him ; so that 
what we learn from these records when they are put 
together is, that we are threads in a very complicated 
web ; or, to use another comparison, that we are parts 
of a puzzle, in which one piece might fit into the other 
if each that has need of something could just find out 
the other who has that something to supply. That is 
one view of the case, but then there is another ; that 
we are not threads, or bits of wood after all, that we 
are human beings, with all kinds of sorrows and joys, 
and contradictions and sins, with a sense of being very 
little even when we are most trying to be great, and 
with the sense of having something very great, and 
mysterious, and immortal, about us, even when we are 
doing very little things; so that there may be earnest- 
ness and passion enough in us sometimes to move a 
world, while we are spending our time about a look- 
ing-glass or a ribbon. Therefore, if we consider these 
advertisements well, we find that people could not be 
made to fit into each other even if each man who had 
something to sell found the man who had exactly that 
to buy ; if the woman who was wanting to be a house- 
keeper found the person who desired exactly such a 
housekeeper as she was ; that there must be something 
else than this to bind us together, and make us live 


together and work together, as men are meant to do. 
Looked at in this way, the sheet of Advertisements 
seems to me, in spite of the multitude of odd trifles of 
which it is composed, a very serious document indeed. 
In different moods it might make one laugh or cry. 
But possibly it might make us do what is better than 
either might remind us that, after all, we do not want 
the greater part of the things which these advertisers 
want, that we can do very well without them; but 
that there are some things which we do want, all 
of us, which we want each for himself, and which we 
want that we may live as if we belonged to a society, 
and not as if we were a set of different grains of dust, 
making up a heap of dust which any strong wind will 
blow hither and thither. 

This conviction, I think, will be brought more home 
to us if we do not leave this sheet of the paper till we 
have glanced at one corner of it ; at least, I think it is 
there generally that one finds the Births, Marriages, and 
Deaths. I suppose one turns to these, thinking it just 
possible that some friend whom we know may be in 
one of the lists ; very likely indeed that we may find 
one in the last. But if that should not be so, if no 
familiar name should occur as a new father or mother, 
as a bridegroom or bride, as one whose house on earth 
knows him no more, yet simply to have this memorial 
of people we never saw or heard of set before us day 
after day, in the midst of all these houses and shops, 
these chairs and tables and millinery, is very striking 
and affecting. Into a world full of these varieties are 


those little creatures born who understand nothing of 
any of them, and yet who belong to a race which is 
meant to have dominion over them all. What is to 
become of that little immortal ? How is it to make 
its way in the midst of all these things ? How is it 
to find out the secret of its own destiny and parentage ? 
Some of these things may be for the use perhaps of 
that couple who are just married. They may have 
been buying dresses, and fitting up a house. Are these 
the things upon which they depend to make their 
home a cheerful one, a place of peace and not of strife ? 
Or have they some better security than that, some 
union between themselves that is not caused by the 
presence of these things, and will not disappear if they 
all depart ? From that man and that in the other 
column they have departed. He is stripped bare of 
them, at all events. What is there left to him ? These 
are the sort of questions that may come into our 
minds ; and surely a newspaper may be of mighty use 
to us if it suggests them. There is no need of long 
moralities about these records. They often spoil the 
effect of the plain words " born on such a day, married 
at such a church, died at such an age." The moral is 
not in our words, but in the facts. If we take those 
in, we shall understand how much greater the common 
things of the world are than the rare things, how much 
greater those things are which concern rich and poor, 
lazy people and working people equally, than those 
which one has and another is without ; though it is of 
these that in our folly we take the most account. 


Well, then, we have done with this sheet of Adver- 
tisements. Let us turn to some of the other contents 
of the paper. Here I observe a Police report. That 
used to be a very favourite part of the paper, one that 
some editors took great pains to make attractive. If 
I told you why, I am afraid I should be coming too 
soon to the second division of my subject; I should be 
beginning to speak of abuses. But I am satisfied there 
is a use in the Police reports, and my present business 
is with that. The very name police is worth thinking 
about. It comes from a word that means a city. It 
is one of the same family of words with policy and 
politics. Whenever you see a policeman you know 
that you belong to a city, that there is a certain order 
established in that city, that there is a Government 
over it, that there are agents for finding out wrong- 
doers, that there are persons to enforce the laws which 
the wrong-doers break. The Police, such as we see 
them in the streets of London, are of recent date 
Most of us can remember when they came into exist- 
ence, under the first administration of the Duke of 
Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. But the Police 
Courts go back to a far older time than that ; and 
without some attempt at a Police there could be no 
City of London, or Borough of South wark. These are 
general considerations, formin;: one part, though a small 
part, of what we call Politics. The Police reports of 
the newspapers apply these generals to special cases. 
There you have not rules and maxims about thieving, 
but the actual person who is accused of thieving 


brought up to answer for himself. It is very good 
and useful to be reminded that all mere rules, all that 
we read of in books, have to do with flesh-and-blood 
human beings. Yes, it is good to be reminded of 
this, even when we have to connect these human 
beings with crimes and with punishment. That surely 
does not make us feel less that they belong to our 
race, that they are of our kindred. It sets us upon 
thinking how many temptations every man and boy- 
vagabond is exposed to that we are not exposed to, 
and what we might have done if these had been 
acting upon us if we had been left to ourselves, 
or left to even worse guides, if there are worse, 
than ourselves. That sermon I believe a Police 
report may preach to us very powerfully. But if we 
listen to it truly, the sermon will not make us fall into 
sentimental regrets that the man or the boy was 
detected in his evil and is punished for it. It is a 
good thing for every man to be detected in his evil. 
It is a dreadful thing for us to escape detection ; and 
it is bad, if we are detected, for us not to be reminded 
that punishment m an immeasurably better thing than 
crime, not for society only, but for the man who suffers 
it. It cannot cure him of the evil out of which the 
crime came, but it says to him, " There it is, in you. 
This is to remind you of it, this is to tell you that you 
must and can have the evil taken out of you, however 
close it is to you." 

All this I might have got as well perhaps from 
another part of the paper which is generally longer 


than that containing the Police reports; I mean the 
reports of some of the trials in the Old Bailey, the 
Queen's Bench, and the other Courts of Law. But 
these are not so homely. The counsel for the plaintiff 
or defendant make long speeches, which one does 
not always understand, and which sometimes seem to 
embarrass the matter rather than to make it clearer. 
And besides, so many of these causes, especially those 
that are reported at the greatest length, have more to 
do with questions of property between man and man, 
where neither party need be very wrong, though one 
or both may be, than with great and manifest offences. 
It is another kind of learning, therefore, that I think 
we get from these reports about the Queen's Bench, 
and the Common Pleas, and the Exchequer Court, and 
the Chancery Court, and the Rolls Court. 

They belong to our country's history. Westminster 
Hall places us in the midst of our old Norman kings. 
It reminds us that they brought over with them 
another language than that which our ancestors had 
spoken, and made that the language of our Law 
Courts. It reminds us that though they did us this 
harm, and gave us this sign of conquest and subjec- 
tion, we yet owe it to them, in a great degree, that 
Law and Government did establish themselves among 
us. They were great tyrants, but they were instru- 
ments in God's hands for setting up that which is the 
great check upon all tyranny, that which is a bit in 
the mouth of every man who tries to make might into 
right, and to trample upon those beneath him. These 


laws, and these different courts, grew up to meet 
different occasions. Sometimes they owed their exist- 
ence to wisdom, sometimes to an accident or blunder ; 
sometimes to good men who were standing up in 
defence of what was right and true, sometimes to 
bad men plotting against each other; sometimes to 
violence, sometimes to those who resisted violence by 
wit or by courage. But there has been something 
deeper than all these at work, or all these would have 
come to nothing. Men have not created the law and 
order that has been in the land ; not lawyers, priests, 
kings, any of them. They have sometimes been in- 
struments in carrying out the purpose of the true 
righteous Ruler of the land, sometimes in thwarting 
it. But that purpose has stood in despite of them, as 
it stands on in spite of us, and of all our nonsense and 
wilfulness. The law reports in the newspapers may be 
helpful in making us recollect that fact. Very tire- 
some they may be in themselves ; oftentimes we may 
think it is " much ado about nothing." We may even 
fancy that justice is done rather slowly, and not 
always done at last; but the Courts of Justice pro- 
claim to us that it is not a name, but a reality ; that 
it is not of to-day or of yesterday, but of Him that 
liveth for ever. 

I ought perhaps to have spoken of another and even 
more exalted assembly in the near neighbourhood of 
Westminster Hall, before I alluded to the Law Courts 
and the Police Courts. The reports of the Debates in 
the Houses of Parliament form a very conspicuous and 


remarkable part of the newspapers during more than 
half of the year. I carefully abstain from alluding to 
any of the topics which are discussed in them, or to 
the opinions and powers of the debaters. But I must 
reckon it among the great uses of newspapers that we 
are reminded day by day of our own connection with 
the legislation and government of the land to which 
we belong. If we profited by it, this would be an 
immense advantage, one which we possess over our 
ancestors, who less than a hundred years ago read 
debates that were in great part imaginary, and which 
were treated by the House as a breach of its privi- 
leges. We ought to understand, better than they did, 
that each one of us has a share in every right and 
wrong act that is done by those who rule us; that 
whatever honour or shame befalls our country befalls 
us, the members of it. Above all, the sight of these 
debates tells those of us who have votes for members 
of Parliament, that these are nothing less than trusts 
to us from God ; that he who sells his conscience to 
any one is giving up the dignity of a citizen and a 
man, is a slave himself, and is helping to make his 
countrymen slaves. 

All this time I may seem to have been talking 
merely as a Londoner. But here are reports about 
agriculture from the different English counties, about 
the state of trade in our towns, about corporations, 
about schools, about meetings local and general, com- 
mercial and benevolent, about lines of railways, about 
health and sickness, wealth and poverty, in all parts 


of the land. The newspapers surely do us a great 
service in furnishing us with these statements. So we 
are reminded that England does not consist of towns, 
and villages, and hamlets, all with separate interests ; 
that it is not a set of principalities as it once was ; but 
that we are one people, speaking one language, hav- 
ing the same law and the same Queen ; and yet that 
within this body there are a great many different 
members, that each town, and each neighbourhood, 
contributes something to the strength of the body 
which another could not contribute ; coal coming from 
one, and corn from another, and cattle from a third ; 
this being the town for cotton, and that for cutlery, 
and that for earthenware. And the newspaper re- 
minds us of what we are sometimes rather inclined 
to forget, that the coals do not dig themselves out 
of the earth, that the corn does not sow or reap itself, 
that if glass and cotton and knives have to do with 
machines, those machines are worked by hands, and 
those hands belong to living men. We have to ap- 
prise ourselves again and again, that whether the 
provinces and the towns of England are to strengthen 
each other and to strengthen the capital, or to weaken 
each other and to weaken the capital, whether they 
are to help to make up a great country, or to destroy 
one that is made, depends much less upon the stuff 
they send up in the shape of cotton or calico or hard- 
ware, than upon the stuff of which the men that work 
these things are composed. 

During the Crimean War the question was often 


debated, whether newspapers were doing good or ill 
service to us by reporting the acts and plans of gene- 
rals and the condition of armies. The same question 
has been raised by the Americans in the War of the 
North and South. I do not pretend to settle it. That 
injustice must often be done by such reports to men 
who were struggling with enormous difficulties, that 
their intentions may often have been embarrassed by 
hasty guesses about them, and comments on them, I 
have no doubt. But as I am speaking of the good 
which newspapers do us, I would rather dwell upon 
the benefits which I think all of us might have de- 
rived from the account of hardships which brave men 
were suffering on both sides. It was somewhat ter- 
rible to be reading a journal, in an easy-chair over a 
comfortable fire, and to be told of what men, all of our 
own flesh and blood, some, perhaps, of our own kith 
and kin, were bearing in the night trenches or in the 
field, or in the hospital after the battle was over. It 
was good to have the comparison brought fully home 
to us, to have our shame awakened for our own com- 
forts, to have our reverence kindled for those who 
could bear, even more than for those who could dare ; 
to feel how closely we are knit to men at a distance 
from us, having vocations wholly unlike ours. There 
were electrical wires communicating between the 
hearts of English men and women and that of some 
soldier in the field, more wonderful than those which 
brought the messages concerning him. 

And the sympathy, it was found, need not be a 


barren one. There could be actual services rendered, 
actual comforts brought home to sufferers, in spite of 
distance, in spite even of ignorance and blundering. 
Many of these lessons belong to a time of peace as 
much as of war. The newspapers tell us of men, born 
on our soil, speaking our tongue, who are making 
precious discoveries and dying slow deaths in Africa, 
who are conquering American or Australian forests, 
who are encountering the old beliefs and customs of 
India or of China. They may be imparting the bless- 
ings which they have inherited to other lands; they 
are in danger of losing those blessings themselves, of 
forgetting the past, of ceasing to be brave men and 
speakers of truth, of acting as if they were sent upon 
the earth to crawl upon it, to worship the gold at 
their feet, instead of being free men and children of 
God. In proportion as you think of them, and try to 
ward off these dangers from them, you are doing much 
to save yourselves and your own children from the 
like. Let us be thankful then to the newspapers for 
bringing them to our minds, for letting us know a 
little what these men are thinking, and doing, and 

I shall stay too long upon this part of my subject, 
which is the pleasantest part, the part in which I am 
recounting our obligations. I must come to the Lead- 
ing Articles, with which I said I should finish this 
portion of my case. I suppose the editors of the news- 
papers consider this far more important than any of 
the divisions of their work to which I have hitherto 


alluded. I do not agree with them, because it seems 
to me that records of facts, even if they are imperfect 
and need correction in some particulars, have more 
worth and interest than talk about the facts, let it 
be as ingenious as it may. Good deeds must be the 
substantial part of the feast; good sentences can be 
but the seasoning of it. At the same time I am not 
the least disposed to underrate the mighty power of 
words. I believe the Leading Articles of newspapers 
are specially useful to us in leading us to reflect very 
seriously on this power. 

A book which has lasted hundreds or thousands of 
years, which has been read by young and old, which 
has given birth to great thoughts and generous acts, 
ought to impress us more with this power than a 
flying sheet. But I doubt if it does. We feel the 
power of the newspaper in building up and pulling 
down characters, in affecting the judgments of men 
about the acts of their rulers, in leading them to 
change opinions which they fancied were very fixed. 
We see this kind of influence going on. We are 
conscious of it in ourselves. We cannot tell exactly 
whence it comes or how it works. It is very myste- 
rious and undefinable. Some man wrote it down per- 
haps at his club, or in his chamber, perhaps in a great 
hurry, when a messenger was waiting to send it to 
the press. He might be at that moment under some 
chance impulse of pleasure, or of anger, or of wine. 
He might be anxious to please some friend, or injure 
some enemy. His thoughts get themselves put into 


letters. The letters are set in types. The next morn- 
ing thousands of sheets carry them east and west, 
north and south ; they are read by thousands of eyes, 
they penetrate into thousands of hearts; they beget 
new thoughts and words, and sometimes very fierce 
acts. I talked of gunpowder at the beginning of my 
lecture. You might have thought it an idle or extra- 
vagant comparison ; but what is there in the force of 
gunpowder that can be measured against this force? 
If we had a barrel of that in our houses, what would 
it be to these words that we carry with us wherever 
we go, which we are ready to discharge so freely, with 
so little recollection whither they may be borne, or 
what work of death or life they may do ? Are not 
newspapers very useful if they bring that truth home 
to our minds, if they make us feel that we, at all 
events, have no right to say "Our words are our own; 
who is lord over them ? " 

In what I have said of the uses of newspapers, I 
have not dwelt upon the obvious advantages which 
they afford to mercantile men. I have spoken of them 
as instruments which may contribute to awaken our 
minds, and set us upon enlarging our knowledge of 
that which surrounds us, and of that which has been 
in past times. Nothing is good which does not carry 
us beyond itself. Every wise book helps us, because 
it makes us understand the world, or ourselves, or God 
better : that is what we prize it for. So a wise man 
does not talk about himself. He makes us honour him 
and love him because we feel that that is not the thing 


he is chiefly occupied about. He does not want to make 
us worship him ; if he could, he would draw us away 
from all false worship of every kind. This test is as 
good for newspapers as for anything else. They are 
useful when they help us to rise above themselves, and 
to seek for things which they cannot tell us; when 
they remind us for instance that we belong to a race 
which existed ages before they existed, and that our 
children will go on after they are turned to their 
original rags. But they are mischievous mischievous 
to our knowledge, mischievous to our morality, when 
they lead us to be content with themselves, when 
they induce us to draw our knowledge or our morality 
from them. This is the subject I am now going to 
speak of. I am not going to blame them, but to point 
out a tendency which there is in you and in me to 
make them into idols, which the more we worship the 
more we degrade ourselves, and the less fit we are to 
reverence anything that is better and higher. 

Let me show you in two or three ways how this 
tendency works. And first let me speak of the word 
News. I have told you that the newspaper may recall 
to us that which is very old, that it must do so if we 
feed upon it rightly, and suck the juice out of it. But 
you will all remember what we are told of the Athen- 
ians, that they spent their time in nothing else but 
either to hear or to tell some new thing. These 
Athenians were a very clever people, the cleverest 
people, perhaps, that has ever been upon this earth. 
They were at one time a very great people. They 


loved their soil; they honoured the tombs of their 
fathers ; they sent forth ships ; they planted colonies ; 
they raised noble buildings ; they wrote worthy books ; 
they resisted and put down oppressors. It was not so 
at the time St. Luke speaks of. They had become a 
poor, frivolous, slavish people : just because they had 
become a newsmongering people. The passion for 
novelty had eaten up all other and better passions in 
them all reverence, all faith, all freedom. It is a 
very awful lesson. We Englishmen are not one-half 
as clever as the Athenians were. But men have lived 
among us, and deeds have been done among us, nobler 
than any they could boast of. We have been a 
more practical people than they were ; ]ess prone to 
speculation, but more successful in hard, tough busi- 
ness. Depend upon it all these qualities are in the 
greatest danger of perishing ; depend upon it we shall 
become petty and frivolous, and stupid withal, if we 
learn to spend our time as the Athenians spent theirs. 
There are men among us who do. We call them 
Quidnuncs or What-nows. They go about from club 
to club, and house to house, and street to street, say- 
ing, " What now ? What is the last, the very last 
newest thing ? Who can tell us ? That which was 
heard two or three days, or two or three hours ago, is 
stale. We must have something fresh. That is what 
we are hunting for." Such men are the most miser- 
able creatures almost that this earth brings forth. The 
past is nothing to them, nor the future. They live in 
the moment that is passing. Their life is absorbed 


into that. And do not let any of us say that we are 
not in danger of becoming such men as these. We 
are all in danger of it ; men of all parties and profes- 
sions, men whose language sounds most serious, as well 
as those who never speak of any world but this. Our 
chatter and gossip may take different forms, may find 
different excuses. But if we let the newspapers of one 
kind or another, however high their intellectual, or 
moral, or spiritual pretensions may be, rule over us, 
gossips and chatterers we shall become, that and 
nothing else. I would especially beseech my friends 
of the working class to beware of this tendency in 
themselves, and to help us in correcting it. We fall 
into it through idleness. Everything in their position 
and circumstances warns them that idleness is their 
curse, that labour is their blessing. In their manual 
tasks they must be earnest if they would do anything. 
Let them bring the same earnestness into the little 
time that they can give to reading ; into the words they 
speak when they are talking with each other; into 
the thoughts they think when they are walking alone. 
If they study ever so little, they may be honest stu- 
dents ; and five minutes of honest study is worth days 
and weeks of flimsy newsmongering study, just as five 
minutes of honest work is worth all that produces the 
flimsy trumpery articles, which look fine to-day and 
are worn out to-morrow. If the newspapers supply us 
with the materials for thinking, they will do us good ; 
if we use them as substitutes for thinking, they will 
destroy both our intellects and our characters. 


Another point. I have tried to show you how the 
sense of personal responsibility may be aroused in us 
by much that we read in the newspapers, and espe- 
cially by the reflections which they suggest on the 
power of the words which we hear, and which we 
speak. But I must tell you also that the newspapers 
may do more than all other literature together to 
weaken in us this sense of personal responsibility. We 
know nothing of the man who writes articles in the 
newspaper. He calls himself " We." If anyone com- 
plains of him, " We " answer the charge ; if " We " are 
convicted of a libel, the printer answers for it. Now I 
do not say whether this ought to be so or not. I 
scrupulously abstain from laying down any maxims 
about the conduct of newspaper writers, what it be- 
hoves the English law to require of them, or what is 
due from them as subjects of the law of God. I shall 
express no opinion on these points; perhaps I have 
formed none. My business is with the effects of this 
" We " system upon ourselves, not with the propriety 
or impropriety of it in them. Looking at it in that 
point of view, I do say very solemnly, that if any one 
of us gets into the habit of thinking that he is not an 
/, a living person, who must give account of himself, 
who must answer for what he says and what he does 
before men and before God if any kind of phraseology 
leads him to lose sight of that truth, and not to keep 
it with him as the one that is the most serious and 
terrible of all in whatever business he is engaged, his 
moral existence is in jeopardy ; he will soon be unable 


to look his neighbour straight in the face ; courage 
and truthfulness will forsake him. I cannot but think 
that we are all very much inclined to lose ourselves in 
a crowd, to muffle and disguise our voices, to act as 
ventriloquists, so that our words may not seem to 
others, and scarcely to ourselves, to have come out of 
us. And the consequence is that, by degrees, the 
words do not come out of us ; they do not express 
what is in us ; we catch our opinions, as we catch 
a cough or a fever, from the people we come into 
contact with. I say then, let us leave the newspapers 
in undisturbed possession of their magnificent plural, 
and let each Englishman try to take credit for nothing 
that is not his own, to shrink from the confession of 
nothing that is. 

Sometimes it is suggested that this plural mode of 
speaking is favourable to modesty. The newspaper 
writer does not like to put himself forward. He is so 
overwhelmed with diffidence that he would rather no 
one asked about him, or attributed to him the pa- 
ternity of the thoughts which he is so generous as to 
bestow upon the world. If, after reading the leading 
articles of newspapers, you should be inclined to say 
that this is the impression they leave upon your mind, 
that a retiring bashfulness, with all its accompaniments 
of reserve in expressing any decided judgment, unwil- 
lingness to pronounce upon the merits or demerits of 
others, abstinence from boasting and self-congratula- 
tion, strike you as their most characteristic features, 
I shall say nothing at all to disturb that opinion. But 


I must say this, that if we borrow this form of speech 
from the newspaper teachers, we shall not acquire 
along with it their humble virtues. I believe the 
danger is very great, that if any one of us were to 
write with the habitual consciousness that he had a 
" We " to cover all his vain and blustering assertions, 
he would give way to the self-conceit which is lurking 
in him more than he had ever done before, that it 
would utter itself in the most offensive, and sometimes 
in the most ridiculous, language. I never can believe 
that the face under a mask is the one which is most 
troubled with blushes. 

There is, however, another justification for this plural 
pronoun. The writer in the newspaper, it is said, 
speaks the sentiments of the persons who he expects 
will chiefly buy his paper. He is what is called the 
" organ " or spokesman of a party ; he has therefore a 
right to look upon himself as a sort of collector of its 
votes and notions. No doubt he ventures now and 
then to correct them; he wishes to lead the judgment 
of his readers, to give a direction to it. But, on the 
whole, he will not fulfil his function unless he is a 
tolerably faithful echo of their sentiments, unless he 
either ascertains through conversation and correspond- 
ence, or can divine by instinct, what their sentiments 
are, and can put them out for their perusal in a 
plausible, readable form. I am sure a man must have 
a great deal of skill who is able to do this. It is a 
very wonderful operation this, of inhaling opinions, 
and then of exhaling them again, each week or day. 


I am not a fit judge whether it is a satisfactory or a 
healthy operation for the individual who performs it, 
whether he feels himself to be, or actually is, a freer 
and wiser and truer, man after it than before it. That 
he must know best. I cannot report the debates 
which are going on within him, or count up the Ayes 
and Noes of his conscience. But speaking as one of 
the public, as one of you, not for you since I have 
disclaimed any such right I must say I doubt very 
much whether it is good to have our thoughts and feel- 
ings and prejudices brought back to us day by day, and 
made to look much better and more respectable than 
they look when we state them to ourselves. There is an 
instrument which we often see worn by sickly people 
in our streets. It is called a "respirator." I have 
heard different opinions from medical men about the 
utility of this instrument for those who have weak 
lungs. Some say it is good because it keeps them 
from the outward air ; some say it is bad because they 
who wear it only breathe their own breath. Which- 
ever of these doctrines is true about those who are in 
a bad condition of body, I do not suppose that any- 
one would recommend a respirator to an ordinary 
Englishman, who has the right use of all his functions. 
The doctor would say to him, " Go out, winter and 
summer, morning and night. Get the freest air you 
can. Beware of nothing so much as of close air, in 
which your own breath is continually returned to you 
again." Now, a newspaper which speaks to us the 
notions and phrases of one school and party is a 


Respirator. We get our own breath returned to us 
again ; we do not breathe the free open air. If we 
say plainly, " This is necessary, because our judgments 
and consciences are in such a diseased state that the 
free air does them harm, we cannot venture into it," 
then we may consult the moral doctor whether we are 
not making them more diseased, whether we are not 
shutting out the chances of restoration by our tender- 
ness of ourselves. But if we are not willing to allow 
that we are out of sorts and need advice, then by all 
means let us throw off our respirators ; they must help 
to stifle us. 

Perhaps it will be said, "We are not tied to our own 
party newspaper ; we may read those which most con- 
tradict our opinions." Just so. I should recommend 
that course. A dear friend of mine once resolved 
that he would read only those that contradicted his 
opinions; he thought he had not the least occasion 
for those that agreed with him. But there is danger 
here too, danger of another kind. The newspapers 
rail at each other, and rail at those who differ from 
them. They have certain slang phrases of indigna- 
tion, traditional witticisms which have been a long 
time in use, but which will bear to be turned, and 
fresh lined, and smoothed and ironed, very often. 
These sharp sayings and well-seasoned jokes, whether 
we know it or not, irritate us considerably when they 
are directed against persons or principles that are dear 
to us. They enter into our minds far more quickly 
than better things; they make all the currents in 


them muddy. They send us forth spiteful and frivo- 
lous too, angry with the anonymous " We " who has 
uttered the words, angry with ourselves for being 
angry, quite certain that he is wrong, less willing to 
admit than we were before that there may be wrong 
in us. I am not saying that all these bad tempers of 
ours may not be overcome. I am sure they may be ; 
I am sure they must be. But do not let us hide from 
ourselves that there they are; do not let us pretend 
that these influences are not likely to call them forth. 
One of the uses of newspapers may be, that they 
bring to light one and another bad tendency which 
was hidden in us; we abuse them when we yield to it. 
No doubt a newspaper might exist, perhaps actually 
exists, which does not so much reflect the notions and 
habits of a party or section of the community as the 
notions and habits which are floating about in society 
generally what is commonly called, in the large sense 
of the word, " public opinion." I can conceive a jour- 
nal acquiring the power of condensing a great portion 
of this opinion, and sending it forth again among an 
immense circle of readers, each of whom feels to a 
certain degree as if his own opinion was rendered 
back to him, altered in some respects, not exactly 
what he supposed it was, sometimes looking so much 
better than the original that his vanity is flattered, 
sometimes provoking, like an ugly photograph taken 
while the sun was in a bad humour. Mr. Kinglake 
has been trying to persuade us that we actually pos- 
sess a newspaper of this kind. He describes in his 


brilliant way how it acts upon us, and how we act 
upon it ; how it tells us what we should think, how it 
reflects all our varying modes of thought, how it finds 
out what we wish at any given time, and then forces 
our statesmen to do what we wish in spite of them- 
selves. I do not pretend to say whether his descrip- 
tion is as faithful as it is ingenious and consistent 
with itself; but if so, the moral seems to me to be 
this : A newspaper which is an exact mirror of public 
opinion should not be blamed by that opinion for 
any variations or caprices which it may exhibit. We 
should turn to the figure before the mirror. The 
variations and caprices are in us ; we are pleased, or 
we are pained, at seeing them so faithfully repre- 
sented. If we want newspapers to be other than 
they are, we must be other than we are. We want a 
standard, a " principle." Let us be sure that we can 
never get it from public opinion. Do you imagine 
that any of the great maxims which public opinion 
now sanctions, which newspapers enforce, were won 
for us by either? Do you suppose the buying and 
selling of human beings was put down by a strong 
public opinion, by the loud clamour of journals against 
it? Do you not know that those who struggled in 
that great cause had to scorn delights and live labori- 
ous days had to endure all kinds of false charges 
through the violence of public opinion, in their firm 
and solemn purpose that the thing which was right 
should not give way to the thing which was popular ? 
They had first to wrestle with the newspapers. When 


they prevailed, of course the newspapers would write 
splendid eulogies on their deeds, and urge the building 
of their sepulchres. Do not suppose it ever will be, or 
can be otherwise. You may as well wait for the 
crowd to pass by you in Cheapside as wait for public 
opinion to make a scientific discovery, or extinguish a 
great popular abuse, or assert a great moral truth. 
All that work must go on in closets, with tears and 
prayers, and earnest fightings against ourselves and 
against the world. The world and its newspapers in 
due time will welcome the fruits which all can taste, 
if there are only some to take care of the roots, oi 
which they know, and for which they care, nothing. 

What I have said upon this subject, applies very 
strongly to all efforts which are made for improving 
the physical, intellectual, and moral condition of our 
working classes. I have heard some of my friends in 
that class complain that they have no newspaper 
which expresses their feelings, and makes known their 
wants ; a large capital, they say, is required to set a 
journal on foot, and sustain it. Those who have capi- 
tal become the objects of the journalist's sympathy 
Sometimes the half acquaintance which he has with 
the feelings of those who have none is turned to their 
disparagement. Whether these murmurs are just or 
not, all must admit that they are very natural ; but if 
they lead the working men to seek for some special 
organ for the utterance of their thoughts, I shall be 
sorry, for two reasons : the first is, that I believe they 
are never likely to gain their object, just because their 


class is so enormous, because it contains so much of 
the stuff and life of England. A journal which should 
profess to represent the working classes would only 
represent some little fraction of them : it would not 
represent the deepest and most earnest feelings even 
of that fraction, only their more superficial feelings in 
some moment of temporary excitement. When that 
passes away, they would feel that their organ went 
on playing certain tunes, giving out some scraping 
sounds, but scarcely any with which their hearts 
would be in harmony. It has proved so, I think, 
hitherto. The case may be changed hereafter, but 
wise men ought not to build much upon such an 

The other reason is, that when the working classes 
desire an organ or representative for their feelings, 
they are desiring to be like the other classes in that 
which makes them weak. We do not grow and ex- 
pand as we might, because we are so fond of having 
our own thoughts and maxims repeated to us. We 
are confirmed in our habits of distrust, mutual sus- 
picion, worship of gold, because we crave for teachers 
who shall keep us in good humour with ourselves, not 
lead us to higher aims, and a more solid foundation. 
I trust and believe that the ambition of our working 
people is different, that they do not wish to settle on 
their lees, but to acquire a better and nobler life. 
God has shown them that manhood, and not money, 
is to be their characteristic. Whatever cultivates that 
manhood, whatever makes them better and wiser and 


truer, that they must covet and follow after. While 
they make it their object to get what other classes 
have, they lower themselves to the level of their 
meanness. When they work with us that we and 
they may have those treasures which belong to us 
in common, and which poverty inherits oftener than 
wealth, they do what is best for themselves in doing 
what is best for the whole land. I do not care there- 
fore that they should have a newspaper literature of 
their own. I believe that there is good to be got out 
of the newspaper literature which exists ; in all that 
good they may be sharers. I have not complained, I 
do not think we have any reason to complain, that we 
are in a worse condition than our fathers, because 
newspapers have an influence over us which they had 
not in other ages. It is always dangerous to draw 
these comparisons ; they generally are signs of ingra- 
titude to Him who orders times and seasons. The 
power of newspapers could not have increased so 
mightily if other changes had not taken place which 
may do us the greatest good, which it is our own 
fault if we turn to evil. Their diffusion is a sign that 
there is far more association and fellowship among 
the members of the community than there was of old ; 
they are a sign that each one of us has an influence, 
and a responsibility, which did not belong even to 
great men who went before us. The newspapers have 
absorbed into themselves much that existed, and ex- 
isted in a worse form, a century or two ago. If you 
read the last volumes of Mr. Macaulay's History, you 


will find what an infinite number of libels and pas- 
quinades were circulating through society in the days 
of William III., and were spreading falsehood and 
malice wherever they travelled, which have no succes- 
sors among us. Most pamphlets in our day die almost 
as soon as they are born; the shadow of the news- 
paper kills them. Our ephemeral literature is far 
more organized ; but in bulk it is not greater, perhaps 
it is less, than that which was the food of other gene- 
rations. Do not let any of us, then, complain that our 
circumstances are making us evil; let us manfully 
confess, one and all, that the evil lies in us, not in 
them. No newspapers have power to rob us of our 
English strength if we are watchful to maintain it. 
They will make us feeble and frivolous only if we 
trust to them to make us vigorous and earnest; we 
can raise their tone by raising our own. They will 
not be able to split us into parties if we ask God to 
keep us a hearty and united nation. 


I AM to speak this evening of Christian Civilization. 
Very elaborate definitions have been given of the word 
civilization. One of the ablest writers upon it has 
stated some good reasons for thinking that a definition 
of it would be mischievous, if it were possible. Per- 
haps we may arrive as nearly as we require for our 
present purpose at the sense of the word, by consider- 
ing the adjective civil, out of which it has grown. 
Civil is near akin to civic ; civil life, I apprehend, is 
the life of a citizen. Civility is the proper quality or 
characteristic of a citizen. Whatever then helps to 
make citizens, to give them the qualities that appertain 
to citizens, to bring them into a better apprehension of 
their position as citizens, to prevent that position from 
becoming an untenable one, must come under the name 
of "civilization." 

You may think perhaps that I have limited the 
word too much. We oppose civil to rustic. Do I 
suppose that rustic life or country life has nothing to 

1 Delivered to the Young Men's Christian Association, about 1850. 


do with civilization ? We oppose civil to military. 
Do I suppose that the military man must be an un- 
civilized man ; that he may not be a very civilized 
one ? We oppose civil to ecclesiastical. Do I suppose 
that ecclesiastical life is not civilized life, or that the 
Church has had nothing to do with civilization ? 

These are not idle questions. They are very perti- 
nent and important questions. I will try to answer 
them. I do not hold either rustic life, military life, 
ecclesiastical life, to be inconsistent with civilized life. 
I have a great reverence for country life, military life, 
ecclesiastical life. I do not know that I can quite 
contemplate civilized life apart from any one of the 
three. Suppose it tried to exclude them all; I con- 
ceive it would destroy itself. Nevertheless I hold the 
distinctions which I have pointed out to be valuable. 
If we attend to them, they will help us in our inquiry. 
There may be a rustic or country life which is a step 
to the life of cities, an absolutely indispensable step, 
and a step which does not lose its worth when you 
have ascended to the next. There may be patriarchal 
communities, village communities, which contain the 
germs of what is most precious in the community of 
the town or city, and which may continue side by 
side with that. But there may be conditions of 
existence in the country which are hostile to the 
growth of larger societies, which are in fact not social 
conditions at all. Those conditions we have a right to 
call uncivilized, or by any epithet, such as savage or 
barbarous, which is synonymous with that. So again 


there may be a camp or military life, which is the 
very beginning of the life of towns and cities, out 
of which that life may develop itself : and there is a 
camp or military life which may be the protection of 
the life of towns and cities, and may grow out of that. 
But there is also a military life which may forbid the 
growth of a civic life or which may destroy it. Again, 
there is an ecclesiastical life, which may produce or 
may nourish the life of towns or cities ; there is one 
which may try to absorb it into itself and to ex- 
tinguish it. 

These observations will, I hope, make themselves 
more clear to us as we proceed ; but I introduce them 
at once because they will assist us, I think, in seeing 
what our subject is, and in not confounding it with 
others which may lie very near it. We want to know 
what powers have been at work in former days, and 
what powers are at work now, to fit men for being 
citizens, or to prevent them from ceasing from being 
citizens. Whatever does this deserves to be called 

Are there then different kinds of civilization ? Is 
there a true and a false civilization ? If we adhere 
strictly to the terms that I have used, we shall not 
perhaps be obliged to assume that there is. Whatever 
contributes to make our life as citizens a really ten- 
able, healthful life, must be good. The evil influences 
must then be, the uncivilizing influences. On the 
whole, I believe this is the right and accurate way of 
speaking. But there are reasons which compel us 


sometimes to depart from it. Cities may spring up 
too slowly ; there may be a number of causes which 
check and stifle their growth, which keep men from 
being citizens at all. But they may also spring up 
too quickly ; men may become citizens before they 
have passed through the needful preparation for being 
citizens. They may acquire habits which seem ex- 
pressly derived from their fellowship in cities, and yet 
which, in any true sense, are unfavourable to that 
fellowship, and will ultimately undermine it. If ever 
I have to speak of a false civilization, this is what I 
shall mean, something which is produced by an over- 
eagerness to get the fruits of civil life when one has 
not yet found the root of it. 

And now, having spoken of the substantive in my 
title, it behoves me to speak of the adjective. You 
are members of a Young Men's Christian Association ; 
you have no doubt therefore that the names Christian 
and Society are naturally and properly connected. 
And I am convinced that you are not content that 
the word Christian should have a loose, vague signi- 
fication. You believe that it has a real, distinct, 
awful signification. You would not, I suspect, be 
inclined to talk of Christianity doing this or that 
thing, effecting this or that change in the condition 
of the world. You would be afraid of such an ab- 
straction as that, which might stand for a multitude 
of different notions, false and true. You would say 
that you must have it changed for something that is 
personal and vital; and you would have no doubt 


where you ought to go that you may get it so 
changed. You would think that the grounds of all 
teaching upon this subject must be in the Bible. 

That is my conviction. And I do not think it is 
only about the word Christian that we may find light 
there. I believe the ground of civilization, and the 
cause of civilization, are clearly set forth in its earliest 
Books. The modern history of the world is, I believe, 
an application and illustration of principles which 
are discovered and illustrated in them. 

When I speak of the ground of civilization, I wish 
you to understand at once what I mean. In one of 
Mr. Carlyle's miscellaneous essays, where he is com- 
plaining of some of the departures in modern times 
from the grandeur and simplicity of the older times, 
he asks whether any geometrician of our day would 
recognize the force of a phrase which he ascribes, I 
think, to Kepler, " God geometrizes." I have no doubt 
that many mathematicians and students of physics 
in our day, would feel that this language, however 
little they might be disposed to use it carelessly, or to 
introduce it when it was not called for, had a profound 
signification. I should be more afraid that our moral- 
ists and politicians would not appreciate the force of 
the expression " God civilizes." I would wish to use 
that expression reverently and cautiously; but I cannot 
accept any other in place of it. I cannot talk of 
Providence doing this or that; it seems to me bad 
English and bad sense to adopt such a phrase. Provi- 
dence is foresight. If there is foresight, there must be 


some one to foresee. I require a living Being to do 
living acts. I must not, under any pretext, shrink 
from the Name which denotes a living Being. I may 
fear, most reasonably fear, to take that Name in vain ; 
but I am most in danger of doing so if I use some 
poor unreal equivalent for it. 

As I claim a right to take the language of the Bible 
literally, and not to dilute it by any paraphrases or 
equivalents, I might go through the history of Genesis 
or Exodus and show you what hints they give us 
respecting the different kinds of civilization already 
existing in Mesopotamia, in Palestine, in Egypt ; how 
they explain to us the grounds of the society of which 
Abraham was to be the founder ; how they refer it all 
to the revelation of an unseen Lord, who claims the 
man as His servant and awakens his trust ; how they 
represent the man as prevented from mixing in any 
city, as being educated through the experiences, affec- 
tions, sins, of a patriarchal or family life ; how they 
trace the passage from that life into the legal or 
national life, as founded upon the revelation of the 
God of the family, as the absolute Being, the King of 
kings, the Punisher of tyrants, the Deliverer of slaves, 
their present Guide and Protector, the Punisher of 
their transgressions, and their Redeemer, the Guide 
of their heart, the Originator as well as the object 
of their worship, whose will all lawgivers, priests, 
judges, were appointed to execute ; how they declare 
that all misery and slavery are in reserve for the 
people, if they lose their trust in this Deliverer, and 


begin to create Him after some notions of their own, 
in their likeness, or in the likeness of any the most 
glorious object which they behold. But as you are 
familiar with this history, as you know how all the 
songs of Psalmists, and the promises and denunciations 
of Prophets, illustrate and expound it, I may do better 
if I proceed in another method, and endeavour to 
show you how hints which we obtain from the most 
trustworthy sources respecting the civilization of other 
nations of the old world, of those which appear to 
stand out in the greatest contrast to the chosen nation, 
enable us to understand its records, and to explain 
their relation to the civilization of Christendom. 

Supposing then you go with me (I dare say most of 
you have been in the course of some visit to London) 
to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. Let us walk toge- 
ther through the Assyrian Court, the Egyptian Court, 
the Greek Court, and the Roman Court, and then sit 
down for a while to compare the impressions we have 
received from them. As you think of these fierce As- 
syrian countenances which you have been looking at, 
the keen, murderous eyes those eagle eyes, as you are 
disposed, and rightly disposed, to call them that would 
have been their own account of them and as you 
observe how the animal, the king, and the god, are all 
presented to you in the same form, you are sure that 
the authors of these statues are giving forth their con- 
ceptions of the powers which ruled over them, are 
telling us no Eastern tale of what their kings actually 
were, but letting us into the secret of what they and 


their people would wish to be. The gods and the men 
both have the savageness of the animals, yet there are 
clear indications in them that they are above the ani- 
mals. They use them for their purposes, even if those 
purposes are not essentially different from theirs. The 
Egyptian figures give you quite a different impression 
from them. Their faces are animal too ; but it is the 
repose of the animal, which they delight to dwell upon. 
You do not know at times whether to call the faces 
very earthly and sensual, or very sublime. There 
is no variety of expression in them ; but there is a 
massiveness and serenity which you wonder at. Such 
were the Egyptian gods. The man thought that the 
powers above must be at rest. It was a kind of dull, 
animal rest, a rest of death. These, too, he sought 
for himself. 

No such image of perfection, you will see, presented 
itself to the Greek. In his statues all is life, energy, 
freedom. The most exquisite human beauty he sup- 
poses must characterize those who watch over him, 
who have elevated him above the rest of the world. 
The man seems to have got the victory over the ani- 
mal; the god seems to be the man in his highest glory. 
But, more here than even in the case of the Egyptian, 
the god has no object but the gratification which he 
may derive from the exercise of his power, or from 
stooping to intercourse with creatures lower than him- 
self. And the more vivacious the man is, the more all 
his energies and powers are awake, the more difficult 
one finds it to determine what other ulterior end he 


has in using all these energies and powers but this. 
For a time the mere joy of feeling them and exerting 
them is enough ; when that ceases, he, whose glory it is 
that he has risen above the animals, must sink into an 
animal again. 

The Roman Court in the Crystal Palace leads us 
away from the mere figures which we see in it to 
the great people, who regarded the making of statues, 
even the raising of splendid and useful buildings, as 
quite their secondary occupation. They did not think 
much of the forms under which they should represent 
their gods; they were content to borrow such forms 
from their neighbours. But they had a stronger con- 
viction than any of their neighbours, that the laws 
which they obeyed themselves, and which they taught 
other men to obey, must be derived from some higher 
than mortal origin. They were sure that their power 
to conquer other people had been imparted to them ; 
that they could not be the masters of the world, if 
a Divine destiny had not appointed them to be so. 
Above all, no men were so deeply persuaded that the 
force of law itself was derived from the authority of 
fathers, that the foundation of civil society lay in the 
family society. These were not merely portions of 
their faith ; they were those portions of it to which 
we must distinctly trace the strength which belongs to 
them, the influence which they have exercised over 
mankind. It was to the decay of this faith that one 
must attribute their weakness, and the loss of their 
influence. When they began to think that laws did 


not really proceed from a Divine authority, but that 
they, by tricks and impositions, were to keep up the 
opinions in men's minds that they did ; when they felt 
that their conquests were simply to win power and 
wealth for themselves ; when they lost all the purity 
of their family affections, and especially when they 
became indifferent about the sacredness of the mar- 
riage bond, then it became evident that there had 
been something false in them from the first; then, I 
think, it became evident what that falsehood must be, 
and how the truth, which was clearly at work in them, 
might be severed from it. 

Well; we have been through the Courts. Why is 
there not, why can there not be, a Jewish Court ? Is 
it that the Jew has been learning a lore which belongs 
to himself, and not to these others Assyrians, Egyp- 
tians, Greeks, Romans ? That cannot be ; we have 
found him bearing witness that what these others say 
is true. They say, one and all, that some Being higher 
than themselves must have raised them above the 
animals, must have given them their superiority to 
other men who are content to be animals, must be the 
Author of their civil life, of their domestic life. There 
is no difference so far ; the testimony from all is the 
same. Only they cannot agree what kind of Being it 
is who is the Author of this nobler life for them ; only 
in trying to conceive Him they seize on this concep- 
tion and that, which is fatal to their own idea, which 
confounds Him with some of the very things which 
they desire to rule, some of the habits which they 


confess they have need to overcome. So at last the 
gods become, in the strictest sense, their workman- 
ship ; and the civilization which they ascribe to them 
becomes based upon a trick and a deception. When 
they awake out of that trick or deception, the civili- 
zation vanishes. The Jew then, though he has no 
Court, may teach us much about these Courts. He 
enables us to interpret those peculiarities in the 
thoughts and history of other people which would 
otherwise be so utterly perplexing to us ; he enables 
us to see how the Assyrian, the Egyptian, the Greek, 
the Roman, each caught some glimpse of the Being 
who was ruling over them, while they were reducing, 
dividing, and perverting Him. The Hebrew prophet, 
as he lay by the river Chebar, with figures before him 
like those with which Mr. Layard has made us ac- 
quainted, may have had visions of the true God, the 
God of his fathers, may have seen how He gathered 
unto Himself the different qualities and powers which 
the Chaldean had seen presented in different animal 
forms ; he may have seen that He was really directing 
the wheels within wheels of outward nature as well as 
of human society ; he may have rested at last in the 
thought of a Man in the midst of the throne as the 
true and satisfactory image of the hidden glory, an 
image which must at last overthrow all other images 
by uniting the true meaning of them all. 

And thus, I think, we find the passage from this 
Jewish civilization to that higher one of which it is 
rny business to speak to-night, which rises out of it, 


which must continually refer back to it, which does 
not set at nought, but assumes, all the fundamental 
principles of it, which proclaims itself however as a 
civilization for mankind, inasmuch as it connects those 
Jewish principles with the thoughts and necessities 
that have been expressing themselves in different por- 
tions of mankind,- and so offers them the satisfaction 
which they could not find for themselves. The Old 
Testament civilization was, I take it, grounded upon 
the principle that God has made men in His image, 
and that He is not made in theirs ; the New Testa- 
ment civilization upon the ground that the full image 
of God has been revealed in a Man, and that there is a 
power going forth to act upon the whole being and 
nature of men, for the sake of raising them and con- 
forming them to that image. 

The question will no doubt occur to you and it 
is one which I am bound not to evade, Is not the 
society which is founded upon this basis a universal 
society, a society for mankind? Have not you just 
represented it as such ? Have not you described it as 
the termination of that special and exclusive civiliza- 
tion which belonged to one nation, which severed it 
from all the other peoples of the earth ? If that be so, 
how does this subject concern the one of which you 
professed at the outset to speak ? Did not you say 
that civil was in some sense opposed to ecclesiastical ? 
Did not you intimate that it had something to do with 
particular cities and nations ? What relation can that 
have with an economy like that of which you are now 


speaking ? Are you not unawares introducing specu- 
lations which may concern something else, but which 
do not concern the processes by which cities or societies 
of men are established and grow up ? 

If I endeavoured to present you with a view of 
European civilization generally, I might lay myself 
open to this charge ; at any rate, I do not think that 
I could prove to your satisfaction that I was clear of 
it; I mean therefore to fix your thoughts for the 
remainder of this lecture upon one country, and that 
that country should be our own. I may be obliged 
now and then to look a little to the right and left of 
it ; I may be reminded of some of its dependencies ; I 
may think of nations that have risen out of it. But 
whatever I speak of will be to illustrate our own 
history, to make the character of our own civilization 
intelligible, to see in what sense it has or has not been 
a Christian civilization ; in what sense it bears out or 
contradicts the remarks which I made about the earlier 

Great Britain is curiously fitted to be a specimen of 
modern civilization. It is the country of Europe which 
makes itself known, which for all moral and political 
purposes begins to exist, just before the commence- 
ment of our era. When Mr. Canning said, " I called 
the New World into existence to redress the balance 
of the Old," (meaning, in plain language, that he had 
recognized the independence of the South American 
Colonies,) he said, with all deference to so eminent a 
man, a very silly thing. The New World had begun 


to exist some time before that, so far as it exists at 
present. Our confession of its having an independence 
of its own made some difference to its stability, but 
not very much. You cannot make a rickety thing 
stand steadily by saying that it has a right to stand 
if it can. But Julius Csesar had some pretence for 
saying he would not have been thought to boast 
much if he had said " I called the little island on the 
other side of the Straits of Dover into existence." He 
was commissioned by the real Creator of this land, by 
the Orderer of its destinies, to do that. " A poor sort 
of achievement." he must have thought to himself, as 
he looked round upon the portion of the island which 
he visited and the people who were wandering about 
in it. " What good can these painted wretches, and 
these priests, with their worship in dark groves and 
their human sacrifices, do in the great world to which 
I belong, of which perhaps before I die I may be the 
ruler ? " Only a man with a very lively curiosity, a 
real interest in strange places and strange human 
beings, and a sort of instinct that it was his work and 
the work of his country, to tame wild creatures, and 
to bring them into order, could have cared for such a 
discovery. But this clear, keen-sighted man, did care 
for it. He was not wrong in thinking that Rome 
would be able to work up even these rough materials 
into something of a human society. In the strictest 
sense of the word, they did civilize Britain. They 
established cities in it. Their military stations became 
cities. There were markets at these stations, or 


towns ; roads were made between them ; a military 
discipline was established over them. Then this mili- 
tary discipline passed into a civic order. Meritorious 
soldiers, who had served their time, became possessors 
of lands, which they cultivated ; the laws which they 
obeyed themselves, they taught the native people to 
obey; the buildings which they had left behind in 
their own country could be imitated here. Houses, 
baths, temples, appeared. Everything wore a new 
face. Was not this civilization ? 

Surely in a sense it was ; such a civilization as no 
people, not educated like the Roman, could have 
given ; one which taught creatures who had only the 
slightest notions of obedience, that they must obey, 
nay, in some sense, that it was good to obey. Pres- 
ently, there mixed with the words which issued from 
the commanders of the Roman legions, words of another 
sort, muttered at first indistinctly, then coming forth 
from the lips of men who were ready to die for what 
they said, then, from little societies of men gathered 
in out-of-the-way corners of the land, about another 
kingdom a Kingdom over the spirits of men, which 
was altogether different from this Roman kingdom, 
which the Roman kingdom treated as a rival, though 
rather a contemptible rival, and was determined to put 
down. How far this message spread, or was listened 
to, we have not much means of ascertaining. But an 
unexpected phenomenon presents itself to us. The 
two rival kingdoms are united. The Roman actually 
stoops to the one which it has tried to crush. They 


are blended into a common society; they are acting 
together upon this British -Roman race ; prefects and 
governors who represent the one, are mixed with 
bishops and fathers who represent the other. Here, 
as elsewhere, there may be pagans (people dwelling in 
villages) who adhere to the old Roman worship, per- 
haps even to the old British worship ; but the chief 
temples in the cities are temples for Christian worship ; 
the Christian Fathers are united with the civil Gover- 
nors in the management of them. 

I asked if the Roman influence might not be called 
civilization. I am now to ask, whether we have not 
stumbled upon a Christian civilization. If I did not 
believe in that first principle from which I started, 
that God is the Civilizer, if I did not suppose that 
was a permanent principle, whatever other might 
change, I might be disposed to say that this society 
was a specimen of Christian civilization. But holding 
that faith, I should say it was no such thing, for in a 
little time I find all this civilization crumbled to 
pieces. I find Christian priests or monks groaning 
over it, as if it were a terrible loss to the country and 
to the world. And yet I find them confessing, in the 
same breath, that it was utterly hollow, corrupt, detes- 
table that there was no virtue in the rulers, no virtue 
in the people; that the outside unity covered inside 
divisions and hatred ; that the family life was utterly 
debased, if not extinct. It was very excusable and 
right for men of that day to talk with horror and 
detestation of the cruel pagan pirates who came to 


trample out that civilization, to banish the Christians 
into the Welsh mountains, to establish their own bar- 
barous faith and society. But these pagan pirates 
were our Saxon ancestors ! We are bound to rejoice 
and give thanks that they were permitted to do that 
work of destruction ; we are bound to ask what there 
was in their faith and society which was better than 
the faith and society of those whom they expelled. 
And we shall not be long in finding the answer. 
They had a faith. They did believe in an actual 
fight between good and evil, in which the good was to 
triumph; they did think that they themselves were 
concerned in that strife. They had, not a civilized 
society, but the first principle and element of such a 
society, that without which it is helpless and heartless, 
whatever may .be its apparent vigour and bloom. 
They had a sense of the obligations of the members of 
families to each other; there was a pure fire on the 
hearth, if there was not one yet on the altar. When, 
therefore, after two centuries of fighting, the Message 
of Peace came again to our shores, it came with an 
altogether different power from that which it had pos- 
sessed in the days of Roman domination. It came 
addressing itself to the affections of the husband and 
wife, to the conscience of the king ; it was welcomed 
as indeed the news of a higher Kingdom, which could 
assert its authority in a region which the commands 
of the legislator could not reach. It came to renovate 
much of that old Roman civilization which was not 
dead, but sleeping. It came confirming the national 


feelings which the Saxon had enkindled, but which 
with him could only take a fierce, warlike direction. 
It came to call into existence the school, and inspire 
an interest in sights and sounds, in the stars of the 
firmament and the music of the choir, in the mysteries 
of times and numbers, of human thoughts and speech. 
This, I think, we may fairly call a Christian civiliz- 
ation proceeding in the most direct manner from 
lessons respecting Christ as the King of kings, as the 
Awakener of the individual conscience, as the Quick- 
ener of all social tendencies and impulses. 

By and by, however, we discover in this civilization 
also a secret weakness. The strength of the Saxon lay 
in action. Contemplation may be dear to him for the 
sake of action, as leading to action ; but if once it 
overpowers action, if he begins to prize it, as some- 
thing more sacred than action, as something opposed 
to action, his power is gone, he is turned into the 
poorest of creatures. Such a fate befell him under the 
ecclesiastical influence of this time. The priest seemed 
to him a higher being than the king; the king ac- 
quired excellence and security by transforming himself 
into a priest; what I said might happen, did happen. 
The civil life, the life of the city, the life which has to 
do with order, justice, government, was extinguished 
by that life which had at first cultivated and sustained 
it. That which was spiritual and celestial affected to 
disdain it. Such disdain was, I conceive, suicidal. It 
involved Atheism. The spiritual man limited God by 
the exercises of his own mind, denied His presence in 


the world, and His government over it ; what was this 
but setting up another God, or erecting himself into a 
God? He was exposed to both dangers; he fell into 
both sins. He was tempted to put the Roman Bishop, 
from whom he had received the Divine message, to 
whom he had naturally looked up in some very won- 
derful sense as the father of his Church, into the place 
of the Father of all. He was tempted to make himself 
the Divine dictator of the consciences of individual 
men. Such temptations might be resisted ; there were 
many influences which resisted them everywhere ; no- 
where, perhaps, were these influences stronger than in 
our own island ; but the effect upon the society was 
serious. Another Divine sentence went forth against 
it. That Saxon Christian civilization was also doomed 
to suffer all but extinction. Pagans again were to 
tread it down ; and again the event proved what an 
infinite blessing lay beneath the apparent curse. The 
old society, renovated after the Danish invasion by 
Alfred the Great, was Saxon to its very core. The 
king had been nourished upon Saxon songs, before he 
could read a word of Latin, before there was any per- 
son able to teach it him. His boyhood was spent in 
action, his manhood in suffering. He came forth out of 
the furnace in the highest sense a Christian, not in the 
poor sense of those who thought that the sending out 
of fleets, judging between right and wrong, translating 
books, were not Christian duties. These he performed 
honestly as in the sight of God, not caring to invent 
or originate laws or institutions, but seeking to bring 


out those that belonged to the heart and spirit of the 
nation, using Roman lore and Christian lore to make 
them more vigorous and more pure ; never fearing that 
his people should have any knowledge which he could 
procure for them; labouring above all things that they 
might have it in the tongue of their fathers. That, 
I think, is the ideal of a Christian king, and of the 
noblest civilization. 

If we have thoroughly appreciated the worth of 
Alfred as the conservator and restorer of native institu- 
tions, and as the vindicator of a native language if 
we have thought that without these there can be no 
true manly civilization, we may be much puzzled when 
we turn over another page of our history, and find the 
Saxon life apparently crushed altogether; Saxon pro- 
prietors vanished from the lands of their fathers ; the 
Saxon tongue spoken no more by those who ruled and 
judged in the land. This is the phenomenon which 
the Norman Conquest presents us with. I do riot 
know that we can exaggerate the fearfulness of it, or 
the amount of immediate misery which must have been 
connected with it. But we have been prepared by our 
earlier experience to believe that calamities even worse, 
to all appearance, than this, may issue, not in the over- 
throw of a nation's order and civilization, but in their 
establishment on a new and firmer basis. I do not 
myself see how the civilization of England could have 
proceeded ; how we could have had an England, even 
if we connect that name, as we ought to connect it, 
especially with the Saxon, unless this conquest had 


been ordained for us. We acknowledge that truth by 
our ordinary method of treating history; we accept 
the Conquest, with all its evils, as a new starting-point 
in our annals. We confess that there has been a more 
continuous life in the land since that epoch than there 
was before. 

Why was this so ? The answer connects the history 
of England with the history of Europe generally, with 
the history of the Christendom civilization. There had 
been now for some centuries, standing face to face with 
it, another kind of polity altogether. The Empire of 
Islam had started from a very grand proclamation. 
God had been declared to be the King of the nations. 
In His Name, Mahomet and his successors had gone 
forth beating down all idols, all conceptions of God 
which men had formed. Their victories attested the 
might, and the truth, of that assertion. It signified not 
whether they came into contact with the idols of the 
Persian, or the idols of the Christian. The Mahometan 
declared that the old faith of the Jews was as true now 
as ever. No new revelation could have set that aside. 
The invisible Lord and Lawgiver was now, as ever, 
waging war with all visible counterfeits of Himself. 
To those who accept my first principle in the length 
and breadth of it, the triumphs of the Islamite can 
cause no wonder. They must look at them as no less 
necessary to the modern Christian world than the 
invasion of Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar was to the 
Jew. But, when they contemplate the hardness and 
baseness of the society which arose out of those 


triumphs ; when they see how inevitably it took the 
form of an imperial tyranny, how the belief of God 
simply as a Ruler who issues commands and decrees, 
simply as a destroyer of idols, between whom and men 
there is no meeting-point, no living, permanent bond, 
must lead to the withering of the reverence for men, 
and the denying of all the springs and sources of 
human life ; they must needs expect also that He 
who permitted this discipline for His creatures, would 
show them very clearly that there was a social order 
for them which was the very reverse of this a social 
order grounded on the very principle which the Maho- 
metans set aside and denounced, on the existence of 
a relation between God and man. If we consider the 
history of Europe at this time we shall see, amidst 
all its perplexities and contradictions, how wonderfully 
this idea, this belief, did determine all the thoughts 
and the politics of the nations in it. 

We talk sometimes of the feudal system as if it 
were utterly opposed to civilization, as if it were a 
crushing weight upon all human society. There is 
abundant excuse for that language. If we contem- 
plate the noble, merely as a man possessing certain 
privileges which others do not possess, exempt from 
the burdens of others, exempt from their responsibili- 
ties ; if we see him as he presented himself in France 
before the Revolution as he often presented himself 
in England during the Middle Ages no language 
which we can use of this kind is too strong And 


even if we look at the feudal lord in his best condition, 


we cannot immediately connect him with civilization 
in the strict sense of that word. He dwells upon his 
lands ; he has little to do with the order and govern- 
ment of the city. But the feudal principle, as it 
asserted itself in Europe during the ages when Chris- 
tendom was contending with Mahometanism, did not 
declare that the noble was a privileged being, exempt 
from obligations and responsibilities. It proclaimed 
him to be a link in a chain of dependences and 
responsibilities ; it acknowledged the lord to have 
duties to the vassal, as well as the vassal to the lord ; 
it mixed the family principle with the tenures of land, 
and the services of the soldier. It recognized Chris- 
tendom as constituting a family : it declared that 
family to be grounded upon the revelation of ONE 
who, being the Chief of all, became the Servant of all. 
It is a great mistake and, I think, a great impiety, to 
deny this fact, merely because we see how continually 
this law of mutual dependence was outraged in the 
conduct of those who professed to be bound by it. 
We feel the transgression when we feel the principle 
which was transgressed. We see what were the dis- 
orders of that society by acknowledging what was 
the order which God has established in it. The idea 
of chivalry, of the knight, the great man, being a 
servant, the servant of Christ and the servant of the 
weak and helpless, may often be represented to us as 
a mere affectation, because it became so afterwards in 
those who made most profession of it, and because 
there were the greatest inconsistencies in the conduct 


of those who were actually influenced by it; it was 
really an integral part of this order, or constitution. 
The knights did not adopt it as a fine theory ; they 
bowed to it as a power which they must needs obey, 
which it was a kind of treason to resist. 

Well ; we often say that the Normans introduced 
the feudal system into England. That, I think, is 
incorrect language. It is not in the power of any 
people to set up a system in a land for which there 
is no preparation in the institutions of that land. 
The feudal principle was not new in the eleventh 
century ; not new in England, or anywhere. But we 
may say that the individualizing tendencies of the 
Saxon were not favourable to the working of this 
principle. We may say that the first Norman prince, 
being thoroughly penetrated with it, organized the 
country into a conformity with it, which would not 
have been possible if there had not been that new race 
brought into our land, and that new distribution of 
lands which was consequent upon their acquisition of 
it. And it is true that the wretchedness was partly 
compensated at the time, was abundantly compensated 
afterwards, by the obligations under which the new 
proprietors were laid, by the account which they were 
obliged to render in of their estates and of the services 
which were due from them, by the position which the 
king was forced to assume as the enforcer of a law for 
the whole land, from which he could not himself claim 

There might, however, have been an evil of another 


kind resulting from this change. Europe was, as a 
power, now assuming to be a general Christendom 
family. In this character it was urging on the 
Crusades against Mahometans; in this character it 
was doing homage to the earthly " father " at Rome ; 
in this character it was using the common Latin 
tongue for all school instruction. The Normans spe- 
cially favoured this tendency. They were, more than 
others the Crusaders, more than others the devoted 
servants of the Roman bishop, more than others the 
Latin scholars of the time. England might have been 
so brought into this circle of nations as to lose its own 
distinct, insular character. William the Conqueror, 
coming over here with the authority of the Pope, 
might have turned the country into a mere dependency 
of the Pope. Robert, the son of William, who went 
to the Crusades, might have inspired a whole people 
with his rage. The ecclesiastics whom the Norman 
princes established among us, might have hindered our 
people from ever having again that gift of a native 
literature, which Alfred had secured for them. 

None of these evils came to pass. The Norman 
princes, once established here, became jealous of their 
rights as national sovereigns, and quite determined 
that the Pope should not take them away. Each one 
of them felt the necessity of maintaining his position 
at home, stronger than any impulse to join the Holy 
Wars : that did riot take hold of any English sovereign 
till their line had ended. The Norman ecclesiastics, 
though they wrote in Latin, wrote chronicles which 


connected the particular history ol some monastery 
with the general history of England ; so they helped 
to keep alive the sense of a relation between the new 
age and that which had passed away. The ecclesias- 
tics had disputes with the sovereign ; sometimes in 
behalf of their own order, sometimes in behalf of moral 
principles and culture against mere force. In the for- 
mer case they had often led the sovereign to assert the 
power of laws which no class of his subjects could 
break through : in the latter, they asserted the power 
of laws which neither subjects nor rulers could break 
through. Either way, there came blessings out of the 
conflict which we should have wanted if there had 
been perfect peace. 

And so the way was preparing for the renovation of 
the Saxon race, and for that kind of civilization which 
I said feudalism could not give ; which, if it had been 
left to itself, it would have permanently checked. The 
Saxons had been indifferent landowners. Their Thanes 
had been petty, turbulent rulers, disobedient to the 
chief authority, apt to be tyrannical over those beneath 
them. In the loss of that occupation they discovered 
another for which none were equally fitted. They 
learnt trades ; they formed societies of artificers ; they 
acquired charters of enfranchisement; they began to 
direct the government of towns; they reappeared as 
the great middle class, the special English class of 
England. All their individual skill and power had its 
full play ; but they showed that they also had great 
social qualities; they could work together, not of 


course without abundance of disagreements and heart- 
burnings, but still, with the sense of a common interest 
and common obligations. The trades are united by 
religious bonds; they imitate in some respects the 
monastic fraternities. The charters of their confedera- 
tions resemble those of the original houses. Still they 
look back to old laws and old times. They boast to 
be a revival of rights that were conceded under the 
Saxon kings. The tradition of those kings becomes 
stronger as the race acquires more of consistency. And 
now charters become recognized as assertors of mutual 
obligations, for the rulers and subjects of the whole 
land. That which the Barons in their own name 
compelled John to sign, reaches far beyond them to 
the citizen, even to the serf. The citizen speedily 
becomes a citizen indeed. He has a place not merely 
in his own municipality; he has a right to send his 
advisers to the Crown. He forms part of a Parliament 
with the spiritual and feudal lords ; and he learns to 
speak again ; nay, to make others speak like him. He 
has never parted with his Saxon language for the 
purposes of trade and intercourse. Now it is found 
capable of fulfilling all other purposes. It had been 
gaining strength, refinement, richness, while it had 
been kept down by the Norman-French, and the 
Latin; it had compelled both to minister to it, and 
develop its powers; it started up a language for the 
whole people, a language for the expression of the 
divinest thoughts. It can claim a Bible for itself. 
If the feudal nobles, or the ecclesiastics, had been 


able to crush this life of the towns, or to give it 
the form they would have chosen, what a loss England 
would have suffered what a loss they themselves 
would have suffered ! I cannot measure the greatness 
of the calamity. For I cannot help perceiving, that it 
was this trading class which hindered the nobles from 
being a set of self-indulgent, self-willed tyrants, which 
maintained a continual protest against the disposition 
of the ecclesiastics to make themselves into gods ; to 
put visible things for invisible, objects of the sense for 
objects of the spirit. I cannot help seeing that they 
were the assertors of a direct government of God over 
the world ; that they testified of a conscience in human 
beings which needed to be purified and delivered; that 
they maintained the right of men to trust in a Purifier 
and Deliverer. Christian civilization would have been 
utterly at an end for England, so far as I see, if this 
class could have been prevented, by any outward force 
or any spiritual enchantment, from arising out of the 
tomb in which it was buried after the Conquest, and 
entering upon a new and higher existence. It must 
have been kept in that tomb if our civilization had 
depended on the wit and contrivances of men. It 
could not be kept there, because the history and pro- 
gress of nations are not left to their mercy. 

But would it have been good for this class, good for 
the country, if it could have asserted an exclusive 
position for itself, if it could have supplanted all 
the order which existed in the country before, and 
could have originated a new order of things ? No 


doubt the citizens of towns had the same motives for 
desiring this result, had the same excuse for desiring it, 
as the barons or ecclesiastics had for seeking to retain 
all power in their own hands, and for making their 
position an exclusive one. But there would have been 
the same curse, I believe, on the accomplishment of 
either purpose. The member of the middle class would 
then have lost all that veneration for the past, all that 
feeling of his connection with the old life of England, 
on which so much of his strength and nobleness de- 
pended. He would not only have treated the chivalry 
and courage of the knight with contempt, he would 
have forgotten the qualities which were properly his 
own. The social, fraternal feeling, of the tradesman, 
would have been changed for mere trade jealousies and 
rivalries. He would have trampled on the consciences 
of others as they trampled upon his ; and, doing so, he 
would cease to feel the sacredness of his conscience. 
He would no longer claim a right to trust in a Being 
higher than himself, and higher than all mortal trust ; 
he would rather claim a right to distrust everyone 
except himself. He would therefore become an enemy 
of the progress of his country ; he would hold it down 
to the habits and notions which belonged to his own 
circle and his own town. 

Without the citizens of the towns we should have 
had no Reformation in the sixteenth century. But if 
they had been able to impose their notions and opinions 
on the rest of society, the Reformation would have 
been a far less deep, radical, earnest one than it was; 


it would have been a change to something new, not 
a protest against things new to the faith which had 
sustained men in all generations. It would have been 
a protest against many falsehoods rather than an 
appeal to Truth; an impatience of tyranny rather 
than a revelation of Freedom. 

There have been two great experiments of opposite 
kinds which illustrate these remarks, and which seem 
to me of immense interest in considering the principles 
of true civilization. One was made in the reign of 
Charles I. The King was a graceful, accomplished 
gentleman ; an enlightened patron of art. He would 
have civilized England by masques and Court enter- 
tainments, by fine pictures, by music, by a splendid 
ritual and church ornaments. It was quite clear that 
the people of England could not be civilized in this 
manner. It was the civilization of a class ; it ad- 
dressed itself to none of the deep sympathies which 
are stirring in men's hearts. It must be enforced by 
tyrannical acts ; it must set at nought strong, earnest 
convictions; and though accomplished artists and 
poets might second the purposes of the Court, it soon 
became clear that art and poetry were suffering from 
its patronage they were becoming poor, withered, 
insincere. They could not give life; they needed a 
spring of life from some higher source to renovate 
themselves. Milton, the great Puritan poet, with his 
living faith in God, was not merely to be the spokes- 
man of the burning thoughts and indignation which 
were possessing men, he was to kindle the life of 


English song again. The Court experiment failed 
altogether ; there was a vehement reaction against it, 
to be followed by a different reaction afterwards. 

The other case to which I alluded stands in close 
relation to the history of this Stuart time, but it is 
drawn from the eighteenth century. Some of the 
earnest men who were opposed to the Court of Charles 
became the founders of the New England colonies. 
These colonies, in truth, exhibited the feelings and 
belief of the middle class at a time when their feelings 
and belief were particularly serious and deep. Their 
descendants in the eighteenth century believed less; 
but they inherited much of the firmness, solidity, 
thriftiness, of their forefathers ; they were fitted for 
the independence into which the madness of their 
mother-country forced them. One boy especially, a 
printer's boy of Boston, prepared them for the mo- 
ment when they should enter upon new and mighty 
functions. I do not know such another career in 
the world's history. Benjamin Franklin, trained in 
the school of hardship, rising by sheer self-denying 
industry, with little personal ambition, stamped his 
own image upon a new world. "Poor Richard's 
Maxims, or the Way to Get Wealth," became a text- 
book, almost a Bible to his contemporaries. They 
deserved much of their fame. They gave warnings 
which we all need to have ; they denounced habits of 
extravagance, and recommended habits of thrift, which 
are precious to all honest people. But was the civiliza- 
tion which is sketched out for us in " Poor Richard's 


Maxims " a civilization which would bear the test of a 
country's experience ? The noblest Americans, the 
men who are doing most, suffering most, for the sake 
of their country, are the foremost to give us the 
answer. They will tell us, that, so far as Americans 
only pursue the ends which this book set before them, 
so far they cannot be what Franklin would have 
wished them to be not to take any higher standard. 
Franklin was a man of science. But those who merely 
follow the way to get wealth however much science 
may be needed to that end will never delight to live 
laborious days merely to find truth. Franklin wished 
to get rid of the slave trade, ultimately, no doubt, of 
slavery. But those who think only of the way to get 
wealth must maintain that cursed institution. Franklin 
loved, above all things, thrift, and honesty, and fair- 
dealing. Those true-hearted Americans, of whom I 
spoke, cover their faces and weep while they talk of 
commercial panics and repudiations as the consequence 
of the eagerness to get wealth. 

Are we to judge Americans ? God forbid ! I claim 
this lesson for us, then, as well as for them. I claim 
it as a proof that Civilization is not to be merely of a 
class ; that each class is meant to contribute its own 
element to the greatness and perfection of it. I claim 
it in speaking to you, because I am sure that you the 
members of the middle class have a right, not only 
to the Civilization of your own class, but to all that 
has belonged to your nation, now and in the days of 
old. I claim it, because I say that the chivalry of 


former days, the arts of former days, the poetry of 
former days, belong to you as much as to any nobles 
of the land. I claim it because I feel that you, as 
members of a Christian association, are bound to believe 
that there is a Divine power at work, in yourselves 
and the whole nation, to give it blessings of which no 
dreams of ours can conceive. I claim it, with all the 
other lessons I have tried to set before you to-night, 
because I do trust that I shall yet see the highest 
class, the middle class, the learned class, bringing in 
all the treasures of wisdom, thought, life, to help in the 
work they have to accomplish the civilization of the 
large class which still craves it at their hands, which 
demands all the help they can give it, which, we may 
be sure, it is God's will should share every blessing 
that His Son has conferred on us. 




I AM to give a lecture this evening on History, "the 
subject cannot be indifferent to any of us. I believe 
its importance will be brought home, one day or other, 
to every man. There have been times in most of our 
lives when it has become utterly dead to us, when we 
have said, as an English statesman said, "Read me 
anything but that." There have been times when we 
have been roused to such a sense of its meaning, and 
of our concern in it, that nothing has seemed so pre- 
cious to us. What has been our experience, may be 
the experience of any Englishman. He may want 
some crisis to tell him, that every step in past history 
is a message to him concerning the present, and the 
future ; concerning his own life, and the life of his 
children. Then what have been merely sounds in his 
ear may become words that ring through his heart. 
We should be preparing others and ourselves for such 
crises ; we should be considering what has quickened 

1 Delivered at the Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, 


lessons in our minds that had been lying in them like 
mere lumber. It is not the worth of the things we 
say which makes them effective; it is their fitness 
for those who hear them, it is the breath that kindles 

We commonly divide History into Ancient and 
Modern. This is a convenient and honest division, 
not forced upon the facts, but derived from them. I 
shall speak of Ancient History to-night. If there 
should be an open Saturday next term, or the term 
after, I may speak of Modern. But I think we may 
learn something of what history is, and of the impulses 
which stir men to seek for it, and care for it, if we 
only hear of its beginnings. 

What the name means, you, perhaps, know ; I think 
I have spoken of its derivation more than once in this 
place. We ought not to forget it, for it is not what 
we should have expected ; and it suggests much. We 
are wont to think of " history " as a narrative of 
events. It was taken from a verb which signifies, to 
ask' questions. How did these two senses, apparently 
so different, become connected in the mind of a man, 
or a nation ? We must ask the Greeks, from whom 
we get the word, to tell us that. 

Herodotus of Halicarnassus is often called " the 
Father of History." Whether he has a right to that 
title or not, he was at least an indefatigable questioner. 
What kind of questions he asked, and of whom, and 
where he asked them, and how he was led to ask 
them, I will try to indicate. If there is a translation 


of him in the library, as I hope there is, you can 
verify my statements, or correct them when they are 

He dwelt in a city on the coast of Asia Minor. It 
was one of many cities which consisted of Greek 
colonists, but which were under the dominion of the 
Persian king. The inhabitants of these cities dis- 
covered that they had a kind of power which the 
Persian monarch did not possess. He had all physical 
strength, and the power of armies. The Greeks had 
an art which sometimes rose to wisdom, which some- 
times sank into cunning. The Greeks, moreover, 
associated together. They had a Government in each 
city. They had a meeting of different cities. They 
had a common temple to which they resorted. There, 
as they believed, dwelt a God of Light and Wisdom ; 
their masters, the Persians, went to consult this god. 
After a time, the Persian monarch became jealous of 
these dangerous little colonies ; he got into direct col- 
lision with them. Then he began to ask whence the 
colonists came, what their mother-cities were, to which 
they turned with reverence, and with which they 
seemed to maintain a regular intercourse. The 
Persians heard of Athens and Sparta; the one the 
head of the Ionian, the other of the Dorian, tribe of 
Greeks. They sent to demand subjection of them ; it 
was refused. Two great expeditions went forth 
against them. The heart of the people of both tribes, 
though they had many jealous feelings against each 
other, rose against the common foe. At Marathon 


the armies of Darius were defeated by the Athenian 
general, Miltiades. The greater expedition of his suc- 
cessor was checked in the passes of Thermopylae, by 
a band of Spartans, who " died," as it is written on 
their tombs, " in obedience to the laws." The Athen- 
ians left their city, betook themselves to the wooden 
walls of their ships, and scattered the fleet of the Per- 
sians at Salamis. The strong were broken in pieces ; 
the weak prevailed. 

Herodotus was born six years after the battle of 
Marathon, four years before the battles of Thermopylae 
and Salamis. He grew up, as a young man, in the 
sight of the Persian despotism. He spoke the language 
of the Greek freeman. Tales of what each had done 
must have been continually in his ears. What could 
be so worthy a subject of questioning for him, as, how 
the strife had arisen, how the victory had been won ? 
Anyone in his circumstances might have cared to pick 
up information about this war, and, when he had got 
the information, to spread it abroad. Herodotus per- 
ceived how much more he must do if he would do this 
work faithfully. He must look into the life of his 
countrymen ; he must learn what had befallen them 
before this Persian War. He must look into the life 
of the Asiatics too; he must learn what manner of 
men they were, what they could tell him about their 
origin, and the way in which they had waxed great. 
A world of questions opened upon him. He must go 
hither and thither to satisfy them. He was reminded 
by his own position that Greece was a colonizing 


country. He must ask about each of its colonies ; who 
had started it, why this or that man had left the 
house of his fathers ; what had led him to one place 
or another. Then he was reminded continually of the 
differences between the Greek tribes. How had these 
arisen ? What fruits had come from them ? What 
sort of Government and Laws had established itself in 
one tribe or another ? Who had been its illustrious 

To search after these matters was no holiday task ; 
but it was only the smallest part of what Herodotus 
had imposed upon himself. The Persians he must 
know about them as well as about their foes. Wliat 
customs had they ? Were they like the Greek cus- 
toms, or different from them ? What did they believe 
about the powers which they could not see, but which 
they worshipped ? Was their belief the same with the 
Greeks', or at variance with theirs ? Then these 
Persians, though they had not been colonists like the 
Greeks, had been mighty conquerors. What lands had 
they conquered ? One of their kings, who had been a 
fierce supporter of the Persian worship, had attacked 
Egypt, and had treated its priests with great rudeness 
and contempt. Egypt that was a wonderful country ! 
The Greek had heard that his own country had re- 
ceived many lessons from it. He must go and investi- 
gate it ; he must find out all he could about its soil, 
and the inundations of the Nile, and where the Nile 
came from. He must persuade the priests to tell him 
as much as they would about their gods and their 


traditions, and why the King Cambyses had such 
a vehement dislike to them. He must inquire what 
the " tombs of the kings " meant, who had built them, 
who were buried in them. 

You will desire to know, perhaps, how all this 
various information could make up one work. Should 
it not have been diffused through a great many ? No ; 
in the mind of Herodotus all these thoughts disposed 
themselves, naturally and without effort, around that 
war between Persians and Greeks, which had first set 
him upon his inquiries, and which he never forgot, 
whatever else he was engaged in. He wrote in a most 
simple style ; he chose out of the dialects of his coun- 
try, for several were spoken in the Asiatic colonies, 
the one which was the fittest for easy narrative, 
which made narrative seem most like conversation. 
But he was a great artist nevertheless. There is no 
picture in the National Gallery which exhibits the 
different figures that are introduced into it, and the 
landscape in the background, more in their right 
proportion to each other, and so as to produce 
an harmonious effect, than his narrative, crowded 
though it is with men of various countries, and 
in various costumes. We do not observe the 
secret of his art, but it has conveyed its impression 
to generations of those who spoke his own lan- 
guage, and to those who speak the languages of 
modern Europe. 

And the part of his work which perhaps we are 
most disposed to pass over, and to treat as foolish, is 


that which most conduces to this unity. Herodotus 
felt, deeply and sincerely, that all the affairs of men, 
as well as their thoughts and wisdom, are dependent 
on a world which they think of, but which they can- 
not see. The course of the Persian War must, he 
judges, be referred to the gods. The victory of free- 
men over the oppressors he is sure must be their work. 
He does not at all the less believe in the work of stout 
heads and stout hearts, in the blessing of wit and fore- 
sight, of good generalship, of well-managed ships ; he 
cannot tell how these things work together with the 
Divine Government, but he has a strong suspicion that 
courage, and wisdom to discern the right end, and skill 
in the choice of men, are higher and nobler gifts than 
any success without them could be. At the same time, 
he is extremely puzzled by the diversity of opinions, 
which he finds prevailing in different regions of the 
earth, respecting the Powers which direct the events 
of the world, and the actions of men. He is anxious 
to get what news he can of them all, and to compare 
them together. Often they seem to him hopelessly 
discordant ; the stories which contain them such as he 
cannot credit. The difference between the propensity 
of the Greeks to make human images of their gods, and 
the dislike of the Persians to all such images, especially 
strikes him. He sets it all down fairly; he has a 
reverence for all he hears, though he cannot explain it. 
He thinks that somehow these Divine thoughts are 
what belong to all men, and distinguish the race 
of men, though he is utterly at' a loss to know why 


they should also appear to be the source of their dis- 
cords and oppositions. 

On the whole, I think we may collect these maxims 
from " the Father of History " before we proceed further 
that he was impelled to think about the previous 
condition of his country by the interest which he felt 
in what had passed, and what was passing in it, during 
his own time ; that he was led to care for other 
lands because they were related to his own, and sug- 
gested continual comparisons with it ; that in the 
course of these comparisons he became more and more 
aware that there must be something common in human 
beings, however superior the Greeks might be to all 
the rest of them ; finally, that he believed the Greeks 
were under some special guidance, to which they owed 
their wisdom and their freedom ; but that somehow 
this secret guidance and superintendence must be over 
men everywhere, and must explain what was best and 
highest in them. 

I will pass on to the next of the great Greek his- 
torians, to one who lived not far from the age of 
Herodotus, and has been supposed, rightly or wrongly, 
to have been stimulated to write by his example. If 
this was the case with Thucydides, the son of Olorus, 
it is one proof, among many, that a man of genius, who 
is stirred up by some other to walk in his steps, is 
almost sure to strike out a course of his own, and to 
depart as widely as possible from his master. Cer- 
tainly no two writers are so utterly unlike as these. 
Thucydides is no pleasant, easy story-teller; all his 


words are carefully considered, his sentences often em- 
barrassed, his thoughts full of weight. I do not know 
that it is necessary to suppose that he was influenced 
by Herodotus, though they were so nearly contempor- 
aries. New events, which Herodotus might partly have 
seen or anticipated, had occurred ; events of altogether 
a different nature from those which he had delighted to 
record. They were quite as serious, even as interest- 
ing ; but as Shakespeare says, in a passage I read to 
some of you lately, " full of state and woe." The two 
tribes of Greece which had suspended their habitual 
warfare, that they might encounter a common enemy, 
each of which had shown forth its own virtues amidst 
many weaknesses and wrong-doings, had engaged in 
a desperate struggle for ascendency. This struggle 
Thucydides, who had himself been engaged in it as a 
soldier on the Athenian side, and who, like many 
eminent men, had been exiled from his country, under- 
took to describe : it lasted twenty-eight years, and his 
story does not reach to the end of it. Most of the 
battles in it were fought in the country of Greece, or 
in the islands about it. Only one expedition, which 
proved the ruin of the Athenian power, went as far as 
the island of Sicily. Just look at the area which this 
war must have embraced on your maps, recollect the 
time which I have told you is comprehended in the 
narrative of Thucydides, and then hear this strange 
language, which he utters in his very first page. He 
says he is going to give the world " a possession which 
will last for ever." " What ! " you will say, " we belong 


to an empire on which we are told the sun never sets ; 
we read every day in the Times newspaper, about 
that amazing war between the North and South of 
America, in which an army sometimes travels through 
a State that is larger than these three kingdoms ; we 
hear from geologists about the changes which our 
planet has been undergoing through myriads of years. 
And has this Athenian the assurance to tell us that 
the story of a quarrel between two tribes in his tiny 
country, which occupied less than thirty years, is 
something in which men may take interest for ever ? " 
Yes, he says this; and he was not a boaster, but a 
man of great modesty. And, moreover, so far as we 
can judge from an experience of above two thousand 
years, his expectation is likely to be fulfilled. His 
work has endured all that time ; it has been read 
and studied by the citizens of countries which he never 
heard of. Statesmen have found in it, warnings of 
dangers, and lessons of wisdom, which they have been 
able to apply to their own circumstances, and which 
have been most impressive when those circumstances 
were most serious. Hobbes, the English philosopher, 
devoted himself to making a translation of it just at 
the beginning of our Civil Wars in the seventeenth 
century, because he thought no book would tell so 
much about the causes of such a struggle, or how men 
ought to behave themselves in it. In my judgment, 
Hobbes did not take a right measure of the meaning 
of our Civil War, nor learn to act rightly in it. There 
were principles stirring in the hearts of both sides, of 


which it seems to me that he knew very little. But 
I have no doubt that all he did know was learnt from 
Thucydides, or that he might have known more if he 
had been as faithful a student of facts, and of men's 
feelings, and as earnest a patriot, as Thucydides was. 
For in those few years, on that small area, there came 
forth the same passions which have been dividing and 
destroying Republics and Monarchies in all days since. 
There came forth the same debates about different 
forms of government, and the mode of administering 
them; the same controversies about the duties of 
colonies to a mother-country, and of a mother-country 
to her colonies ; the same arguments to prove that it 
is better to restrain men by laws from the gratifica- 
tions which tempt them to do wrong, or that it is 
better to leave them free to the play of their own 
faculties, and the exercise of their own judgments, 
which are occupying practical and theoretical people 
in England and France, and Germany, during this 
year of 1865. And in the midst of all the events 
which affected the people of Sparta or Athens, we get 
glimpses of men, great men, and men pretending to be 
great, honest statesmen who do not understand their 
times, now and then men unjustly suspected of dis- 
honesty, and sometimes falling into it, because they 
are trying to sympathize with the feelings of their 
countrymen, and now and then stooping to flatter 
them these, and a number more, evil and good, who 
were brought out by the excitement and earnestness 
of the time, and who are patterns of similar characters 


which have appeared at various moments in later 

Thucydides, therefore, had good reason to think that 
his book was one which the world would not let die. 
Looking at it from my point of view, I should say that 
One who is above the world, and rules the world, has 
not let it die, because it has been a treasury for in- 
struction, a witness of the evils to which men are 
prone, and of the power which they need to counteract 
those evils, a witness of that which causes States, 
great or small, to perish, and of that which they re- 
quire to keep them together a witness of the reason 
for which wise men are raised up, and of the mischief 
which wise men may do if they are not under the 
direction of a Higher Wisdom than their own. For 
this lesson comes out of Thucydides also, though he 
speaks far less in words than Herodotus, of Higher 
powers. At each step of his narrative we are reminded 
of what must become of a nation, even though it be 
the cleverest nation that ever existed in the world, as 
the Athenian probably was, if there were no order 
which it was obliged to follow but its own ingenuity 
and caprices. Shakespeare's lesson 

" There's a Divinity that shapes our ends, 
Rough hew them how we will," 

might be the motto to the history of the Peloponnesian 
War, as well as to every other history. 

A period of Greek history came after this which was 
the sequel to both the others, but of which we have no 


contemporary narrative extant, only one written long 
after. The Republics, which strove so fiercely against 
each other, fell under the power of a monarch of 
Macedonia. The monarch, full of Greek thoughts and 
energy, determined to avenge the old insults of Persia, 
and to make Persia his subject. It was a splendid 
experiment, and had splendid results; for though 
Alexander the Great, happily, could not found a united 
monarchy, though all his empire broke in pieces, he 
did diffuse Greek civilization over Asia Minor, and 
Syria, and Egypt. In all these countries Greek cities 
were founded, Greek arts and wisdom, and the Greek 
language, established themselves. 

It is in the course of Alexander's conquests that we 
get the first glimpses of a country which has become so 
wonderful to us during the last century. India dis- 
covered itself to him. He found there the very same 
kind of men whom we see exercising dominion there 
now. The Greeks called those Gymnosophists whom 
we call Brahmins. In essential features they were then 
what they are now, a caste of priests and learned men, 
the preservers of traditions which were even then old, 
and of a form of society which has not yet passed 

In this case Alexander was only an observer and 
reporter. Greece left no traces in India ; but in Asia, 
and Africa, it subdued countries to its own customs and 
habits of thought, its language and worship. But, 
whilst it was exercising this mighty power, Greece had 
itself fallen. Its native freedom was gone. It hoped 


at one time to recover that freedom through the help of 
a power which was not Greek, but Italian. The Romans, 
whilst they were subduing the earth, flattered the 
dreams of the Greek Republics, that they might be 
independent Republics again. They could not be so. 
They had lost the capacity for independence. It was 
a Greek, living under the tyranny of Rome, who wrote 
the history of the exploits and conquests of Alexander. 
Another Greek, living also in Rome under the Emperor 
Trajan, did a greater service to all times by writing the 
Lives of eminent Greeks and Romans of different periods, 
and by comparing them together. Plutarch, to whom 
we owe these valuable biographies, winds up that portion 
of Ancient History of which I have been speaking to you. 
He stands on the verge of the Ancient and the Modern 
world. Though he belonged to an age when the true 
glory of both Greece and Rome had departed, seeing 
they both had ceased to be free, he sympathized with 
the freemen of both; he helps us to understand in what 
their influence over their times, and their respective 
nations, consisted. Like the earliest Greek historian, 
whom he disliked, because he had called his country- 
men in Bceotia stupid, Plutarch has perceived that 
nations must be connected together, that there is a 
human life which is common to them. And though he 
was born in. an age when men had begun to distrust 
the Legends which Herodotus recorded, though Plutarch 
was a philosopher, and knew all that philosophers had 
said against these Legends, he did not venture to dis- 
credit them. He had as strong a conviction as Hero- 


dotus had, that human life must be grounded on a 
Divine life ; that history is an unintelligible riddle, in 
one age or another, if there is not a Higher guidance 
over men. What he felt very strongly was, that this 
guidance must be a good guidance; that the Divine life 
must be a higher, purer, more perfect life than the 
human. So much he was sure of : where this life was 
to be found he could only guess. But the philosopher 
leaves us this lesson, which comes out of all Greek 
history, that we cannot make a great separation between 
the world which we see and that which we do not see ; 
that men's belief about the one will affect in a myriad 
ways their acts in the other, and will mould their cha- 
racters ; that, somehow, the connection between them 
must be explained, if men are to live together in societies, 
and are not to be mere herds of animals, or the slaves of 
base, superstitious fears. 

And now we must pass to the historians of that city 
to which Plutarch has introduced us. Perhaps you may 
find in his Lives, as well as anywhere, what the secret of 
the Roman excellence was, and how it differed from that 
of the Greeks. The relation of the father to the child, 
seemed to the Roman, the most wonderful fact in the 
world. There it was ; each man came into the world 
with this bond holding him ; he could not cast it aside. 
The authority of the father, he thought, must be the 
greatest authority of all ; the reverence of the child to 
the father must be the most profound of all. He 
called it piety. It was connected with all his religion. 
He believed in a Divine Ruler over all men, who had 


the kind of authority which was expressed in the 
dominion of the father over the child. This was to 
be enforced by priests ; they were to keep up in the 
people the feeling that they must not transgress the 
laws of the State that they must not go out of their 
ranks in the army. A mighty power came to the 
Roman people through this obedience, this religion. 
It made them a compact people, and a people capable 
of all energetic doings ; while the wit of the Greeks 
fine and beautiful as it was set them at variance. 
And yet Rome had its strifes as much as any Greek 
city. That feeling of the Fatherly Authority made old 
families, old persons, very venerable. These possessed 
the earliest power and rights in the city. But, happily, 
they could not hinder other tribes from mingling with 
them. They, too, had surely a right to claim a place 
in the city, they, too, were surely meant to be citizens, 
and have the privileges of citizens. These disputes 
form one of the greatest, and most interesting, topics 
of Roman history. They called forth the vigour of 
the Roman character, on one side and the other ; they 
were the occasion of laws which were not established 
without tremendous conflicts, but which remained for 
the good of both parties. They teach us that a nation, 
like a man, has a constitution which passes through a 
number of shocks of youthful diseases, which only 
tend to bring out its vigour, and to show that one 
part of it cannot be healthy unless it is sustained by 

These are lessons which Roman history has be- 


queathed to modern times ; no country, I think, has 
profited by them, or may profit by them, more than 
England. But it has another set of lessons which are 
quite as important. There are diseases which may 
strengthen a man's constitution; there are diseases 
which prove mortal. So it is with a nation. You 
may trace the disease which was to be fatal to Rome, 
through all the stages of its life. The habits of 
authority and obedience produced the finest race of 
soldiers, the grandest military organization, that was 
ever seen in the world. There was a power in Rome, 
to govern and organize a world; but there was the 
passion to use this power for conquest. There was the 
lust of appropriation. In that lay the certainty that 
great generals would aspire to dominion, over foreign 
tribes first, then over their own citizens. The struggle 
for order would become the factions of men fighting 
for supremacy ; and the people, craving for the same 
thing that their rulers craved for, would become the 
instruments of their purposes. Then the feeling of 
power, which had been so closely connected with the 
feeling of relationship, of the father's protection of the 
son, of the son's obligation to the father, would become 
separated from this, and would at last almost crush 
it ; then the respect of the wife for the husband, of the 
husband for the wife, would depart ; there would be a 
dislocation of ties throughout all society. Then the 
religion of the priest would become a mere contrivance 
to keep up the State ; he would no longer believe in 
the gods whom he worshipped; he would be a deceiver 


in all the acts connected with their service. A habit 
of insincerity would penetrate into the very root of 
the city's life; then some unprincipled general would 
be welcomed as a deliverer, even by good men, nay, 
would be really a deliverer from the misery and crimes 
of heartless factions. He would try to rule partly by 
his army, partly by the reverence for old laws, partly 
by the arts and tricks of religion. In time the army 
would set laws at defiance ; and a religion which stood 
upon a lie would be utterly useless to bind men, when 
no one cared to know and obey the truth. 

All these results and warnings are written deeply 
and legibly in Roman history for our instruction. I 
say in the history. I have not spoken so much of its 
books of history, as I did of those which the Greeks 
wrote. It has noble writers of history. Livy, though 
he may have often misrepresented facts, either out of 
respect to great houses, or from confusions between two 
different reports of the same transaction, yet gives us, 
on the whole, a most lively picture of Roman feelings, 
and Roman life. His very errors teach us what his 
countrymen were occupied about, to what causes they 
attributed their greatness, or their decay. Tacitus, 
whose history is a kind of dirge over the slavery into 
which Rome had fallen, and an anticipation of the 
ruin which its own armies must bring upon it, is still 
more valuable, and has supplied reflections to wise 
men in every country. Both these books interpret, 
more or less satisfactorily, the history of Rome; 
the History itself lives in gigantic works ; in laws, in 


the language and condition of every country in the 
modern world. Many books of Livy and of Tacitus 
have perished; it has been a great blessing to have 
preserved what we have preserved. But had they all 
gone, there would be signs and monuments everywhere 
to show us what the people of whom they speak must 
have been. Romans called their city an Eternal city. 
If they said that it had accomplished, and was still to 
accomplish, the purposes of an Eternal Mind, which 
will educate mankind, by the rise of cities or by their 
downfall, they would have spoken truly. 

Of course Roman history, like Greek history, must 
make the condition of other countries, especially of 
those which came under their sway, more intelligible 
to us. We owe to Roman authority our principal 
knowledge of Carthage, which contended with it long, 
which it at last destroyed, which rose out of its ashes 
a Roman city. There is consolation in this recollection, 
since it shows that great cities, and great men, will 
make themselves known, even through the reports of 
their opponents. Livy evidently detested Hannibal, 
the great Carthaginian general, yet his portrait of him 
exhibits him to us as a most accomplished military 
genius, a sincere patriot, a man of brilliant conceptions. 
So, again, our knowledge of Gaul, and of Britain, in 
their earliest stages, are due mainly to their conqueror 
Julius Csesar. There are cases, however, in which 
Roman writers, even the most faithful and earnest, 
would have led us into the most utterly false impres- 
sions of the people who were under their country's 


yoke, if we had not other helps to ascertain the truth 
about them. For instance, Tacitus describes, vividly 
and powerfully, the insurrection of the Jewish nation 
against the Roman emperor ; that leads him to repeat 
what he knows about its past condition. He no doubt 
meant to tell the truth, for he was a truthful man ; 
but no misrepresentation of the facts can be more 
amusing, and even ridiculous, than his. Though there 
was a considerable, and even a rich colony of Jews in 
Rome, he had never succeeded in getting any even 
tolerable information from them respecting their tradi- 
tions, or their sacred books. 

The Greeks were not so ignorant on this subject. 
Two centuries before the time of Tacitus, a king who 
reigned in the city of Alexandria, Ptolemy Phila- 
delphus, had commanded a translation of the Jewish 
Scriptures to be made by learned Jews ; that Greek 
translation had been widely diffused over the countries 
which Alexander the Great had subdued. A Greek 
monarch, who reigned in Syria, had tried to seize the 
copies of the Scriptures which he found in Jerusalem, 
and to corrupt them, that he might introduce the 
Greek worship into Judsea. He had been defeated by 
Judas Maccabeus and his brethren ; the Temple had 
been purified of the idols which had been brought into 
it; Jerusalem possessed for a while an independent 

But the records of this age of Judsea possess only a 
slight interest for us ; they had only a slight interest 
for their own time. The older records, those which 


the Alexandrian sages had rendered into Greek, these 
constitute the third great element of Ancient History. 
I have reserved them for my last topic, though they 
are the oldest of the three, because I wish to consider 
how far they bear upon those inquiries with which we 
found Herodotus and the Greeks occupied how far 
they are connected with any of the problems which are 
raised by the Roman annalists. 

Two remarks occur to us when we open these books. 
The) 7 profess to be Histories that is, records of the 
actual growth and unfolding of a particular nation 
just as the books do which refer to Greece or Rome. 
Secondly, they contain no thoughts or speculations 
about Divine or invisible helpers who may be favour- 
able or unfavourable to this nation, such as we find in 
Herodotus. They start at once with the announce- 
ment of a Divine Ruler ; they represent Him as making 
Himself known to a shepherd in Palestine, and calling 
him out, that in him, and in his seed, all the families 
of the earth may be blessed. The whole subsequent 
history has reference to the government and education 
of this family by the invisible Lord. He deals with 
it at first as a family simply. The members of it 
dwell in tents, live apart from cities, pursue the occu- 
pation of shepherds, are squatters, as we should say in 
modern language, on a soil which they do not possess. 
They exhibit all the rude, wild passions of men in 
this condition, commit various crimes, quarrel with 
each other. They suffer for these transgressions, not 
by direct formal inflictions, but by the evil conse- 


quences which follow naturally from them. The family 
multiplies ; it is invited into Egypt, has a settlement 
formed for it through the favour of an Egyptian king; 
it grows to be a horde. A successor of the king who 
had favoured it becomes suspicious of its position on 
his soil. He first attempts to destroy the males who 
are born in it : then succeeds a more elaborate scheme 
tor turning the settlers to account, for reducing them 
to slaves, for using them in the great works which 
have made the kings of Egypt famous. A patriot 
appears out of one of the tribes ; he kills an Egyptian 
oppressor ; he has to fly. After forty years the God 
of his fathers appears to him in the desert, reveals 
Himself as One who cares for the slaves, has heard 
their cry, and declares that He will be their De- 

The ground of the Jewish Nation is laid in this 
revelation. The God whom they worship is the 
" Deliverer." That is the Name by which they are to 
know Him. They may not imagine Him in the like- 
ness of anything they see or dream of; they are only 
to recollect Him, then and always, as setting them 
free. They are brought out of bondage. A Law is 
given them, warning them of the acts which have 
enslaved, and do enslave nations. As occasions arise, 
statutes are added, dealing with special circumstances 
in the condition of an Oriental people. This remains 
the fundamental code of the Nation. They have vari- 
ous institutions established for them; the first, and 
chief, a feast to commemorate their deliverance. Like 

178 ANCIENT H1STOEY. [ V i. 

other nations, they have sacrifices, but the sacrifices 
are not to turn the Will of Him whom they worship, 
but to express His Will to be at one with them, and to 
put away the evil that they are conscious of. The 
priest who performs the sacrifice is not allowed to 
devise any plans of his own ; he is simply to be 
a witness of the reconciliation of which he gives this 

The Israelites are divided into tribes and families. 
Their military organization is dependent on this family 
arrangement. Each man encamps under the standard 
of the house of his father. 

They march into the land which has been promised 
them ; they drive out a race which has become in- 
tolerable. The land is distributed according to their 
tribes ; they show no signs of excellence when they 
are established in it ; they fall into all kinds of divi- 
sions. They show the propensities which the Greeks 
displayed, only without their wit and refinement; 
they have all their inclination for sensual, visible 
worship. They sink into slavery. Chiefs are raised, 
out of one or other of their tribes, to be their deliverers ; 
they are heroes for that service ; ordinarily they are 
just like other men. A more settled government is 
established. There are organized judges. In time 
they desire a king to lead their armies. They experi- 
ence all the misery of self-willed tyranny. The Nation 
is broken by its enemies. A better ruler who cares for 
his people restores them. He rules in the name of the 
unseen King and Deliverer ; though he often does acts 


of shameful injustice and oppression, which bring down 
upon him the just and natural retribution of popular 
revolt. There is a wise and peaceful king who spreads 
the fame and dominion of Israel over various lands. 
He becomes an idolater and oppressor. After his 
death the tribes fall into two hostile camps ; a new 
capital is established in Samaria. There is a succes- 
sion of kings in both divisions of the kingdom, who 
encourage superstition and moral degradation. Now 
and then a reformer appears, who restores the faith 
and energy of the land. At last the great Assyrian 
power descends upon the northern kingdom and carries 
its inhabitants captive, according to the custom of 
those monarchs. The southern kingdom is threatened. 
It has a king who, amidst some weakness and occa- 
sional tendency to seek help from Egypt, trusts in 
God, and defies the invader of the land. Jerusalem 
is saved. A profligate successor reduces it again to 
perdition. After a fruitless attempt at reformation its 
inhabitants are carried to Babylon ; the Temple is 
destroyed, the city is laid waste. The captivity 
endures till the Babylonian empire is overthrown by 
the Medes and Persians. Then the Jews are per- 
mitted to return to their land. They rebuild their 
city and the Temple. Their polity and worship are 

Here is a continuous history. We sometimes call 
it a " religious " history. I have shown you that that 
name does not belong to it more than it belongs to 
Greek or Roman history; they are both religious 


histories, if you mean that religion mixes with all 
the commonest transactions in which the people are 
engaged that they could not contemplate their life 
apart from Divine government and protection. If, on 
the other hand, you turn to the Jewish history, you 
find that its most solemn warnings are directed against 
kings and priests who believed themselves to be very 
religious, who established altars for the sake of pacify- 
ing, or propitiating, a Power that they believed might 
do them injury. The great difference between this 
History and both the others, as I have remarked al- 
ready, is that it starts from no conceptions of men as to 
beings who may do them good and injury ; it starts 
from the assertion of the Being who seeks wholly and 
simply to do good, to form a Nation, to keep it at one, 
to deliver it from the bondage which it brings upon 
itself, or into which other men may bring it. The 
prophets who are the interpreters of this History, who 
brought home the meaning of it to the minds of their 
countrymen, enforce this lesson continually. They 
exist to enforce it. They affirm that a just and 
righteous Being is ruling over them, that injustice 
and unrighteousness of all kinds are hateful to Him ; 
that these must bring curses upon a land, in whatever 
form they are exhibited in whomsoever, king, priest, 
or peasant, they appear ; that their Lord is seeking to 
deliver them out of these curses by delivering them 
from the evils which are the source of them ; that all 
the punishment at home, and the captivity abroad, is 
a discipline which is ministering to this end. 


If you ask me whether all the blessings of which 
these teachers speak were not blessings to their own 
race, I answer, first, that the primary announcement of 
the record is, that this race was chosen out especially to 
be a blessing to all the families of the earth ; secondly, 
that every step of this history is a witness that the 
Jews, instead of being picked specimens of humanity, 
exhibited its roughest and coarsest grain ; thirdly, that 
the prophets are continually setting forth to the Jews 
the hope of a deliverance of all nations, of the dis- 
covery of their God to all nations, as the only one 
which could be the least cheering or satisfactory to 
themselves. And there is one more answer, that this 
nation did believe itself to be separated from all na- 
tions, not to be their blessing but their curse, and that 
the result of that conviction was such a signal over- 
throw of their city and nation as did not befall any 
Greek city, or the city of Rome, or any other of which 
we have the report. 

I do, then, look upon the history of this Nation, not 
as an isolated one, but as the key to the rest of Ancient 
History, as that which explains to us why Ancient 
History is the history of distinct nations, and what 
was the source of their strength, and what was the 
cause of their downfall. As long as there are nations 
in the modern world, so long I believe these records 
of Greece, of Rome, of Judsea, must always be the 
lesson-books ; and that the one of which I have spoken 
last must be used to clear the difficulties of the other 
two, and to remove the despair which, taken by them- 


selves, they would engender. But they have all three 
suggested to us the thought of something that is 
deeper and more universal, than national life. They 
have all contained the testimony of a human life, of a 
life which is common to all the nations of the earth. 
They assure us that it must be ; they do not show us 
under what conditions it can be. Unlike as the Latins 
and Greeks are, Plutarch says there is a bond between 
them, a ground of comparison between their great men. 
Rome aspires to hold the nations in one. The prophets 
of the Old Testament say that God has created them 
for a unity which He would reveal. How any of these 
expectations have been fulfilled, or may be fulfilled ; 
that, I believe, is the question which Modern History 
investigates of which it is somehow to find the 



THE History of England, how it may be read to most 
advantage, is the subject I have proposed for your 
consideration this evening. Do not let the terms in 
which I have stated it alarm you. I do not design 
to enter into a long disquisition about history in 
general, or our own history in particular. I shall 
not suggest any new method of reading it, to disturb 
all the methods which one or another of you has 
been accustomed to follow. My object is altogether 
different. I have seen others puzzled, I have been 
puzzled myself, by a number of different plans which 
have been suggested for studying History, by a number 
of different warnings not to adopt this plan or that, 
because it can lead to no good. One tells me that 
the old plan of attending to the reigns of the Kings, 
and the succession of Dynasties, is quite obsolete. One 
says that what we call our Constitutional Histories 
are tiresome and useless; they give us much philo- 

1 Delivered at the Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, 


sophical discourse, but few facts. A third says that a 
History of the People, of their manners and customs, 
is the only valuable history, or that it is not valuable 
at all that we can get nothing out of it. Some of my 
cloth will say that all history should be Ecclesiastical 
History ; some will say that we should keep as clear of 
that as possible, if we would not pervert all secular 
records, and all evidence. Again, we are warned to 
keep clear of this book, for it is written by a Tory, who 
will certainly cheat us with notions of Prerogative and 
Divine Right ; of that book, for it will show us all men 
and all questions through Whig glasses ; of a third, for 
it will be certain to make us Democrats. Then the 
variety of our resources is turned against us. The 
materials for history have become so numerous, so 
interminable, who can hope to master even a few of 
them ? We spend our time in determining those 
which we need not think of; so there is not much left 
for those that we deem to be worthy of our attention. 
Then, we are making history so fast, that it becomes a 
doubt with us whether we have any leisure for that 
which is made. What can a man with a little leisure 
do but read the newspapers ? Till we have mastered 
the doings of Queen Victoria, who will turn to Queen 
Elizabeth ? 

These, I believe, are real hindrances and perplexities 
to many of us. I shall be heartily glad if I should be 
able this evening to remove two or three of them. 

First, I will speak of those conflicting methods 
which offer themselves to us, and one or another 


of which we suppose we must accept, to the rejection 
of the rest. May 1, or may I not, learn my old 
rhymes about 

"William the Conqueror long did reign, 
William his son by an arrow was slain ? " 

or, shall I resolve that William the Conqueror, and 
William Rufus, do not concern us at all ? that all we 
have to do with are great epochs, like the Magna Charta, 
the Reformation, the Civil Wars, the Revolution ? One 
has often been tempted to that opinion. Surely, we 
have said to ourselves, these individual monarchs are 
not better, some of them much worse, many of them 
much feebler, than their neighbours. What right have 
they to be remembered, when a number of much wor- 
thier people are forgotten ? That is a plausible kind 
of speech; but I am satisfied it is not sound speech. 
Whatever these men were, their good or their evil has 
had an importance for England, has an importance 
for England at this day, which we cannot measure. 
We do not gain more insight into the worth of their 
subjects by overlooking them; we shall understand 
the worth of their subjects much more, if we frankly 
acknowledge the position they have held, and the 
influence they have exercised. I doubt greatly whether 
ours is not the country in Europe which received most 
of blessing, and most of mischief, from its sovereigns; 
whether those countries which are governed by absolute 
rulers have not been really less practically influenced 
by them than we have been. I will not go over the 


different steps by which I have been led to a conclusion 
apparently so paradoxical. But I will endeavour to 
show you that a much higher authority, one which we 
shall all acknowledge to be a higher one, bears witness 
that our old way of reading History, the one into 
which we were adopted when we were children, is one 
in which we may persevere with the greatest profit 
when we become men. 

Whatever we may think of Shakespeare's Plays as 
guides to a knowledge of English History, I think 
most people will confess that they have learnt more 
about the different persons who have acted in that 
history from them than from any other source. The 
men and women whom he shows us are not names or 
shadows, but such as we at once recognize, such as 
we are sure must have been. They are men of all cha- 
racters, classes, degrees, professions ; but Shakespeare 
always begins from the king. The titles of his plays 
are not chosen unfairly, or by accident. He does not 
put King John, King Richard II., King Henry IV. in 
the front of the battle, and then exhibit to us some of 
the more striking events, or the more remarkable 
people, of their times. The kings are the prominent 
figures in the drama; the others all stand in some 
relation to them. Mr. Knight indeed thinks that 
young Arthur is the hero of Shakespeare's " King 
John." It ma}^ be so. An artist may find that the 
little boy is the centre of the group, that all the other 
personages fall into their places about him. But it 
seems to me that Shakespeare's art was true to facts; 


that though he may violate the mere chronology of 
them, he never disposes them, or those who are con- 
cerned in them, otherwise than he judged from the 
books he read that they had been disposed in the real 
world. He found an ugly, disagreeable object, the 
most prominent object in England at the beginning 
of the thirteenth century. That prominent place it 
retains on the stage. The uncle is not introduced to 
set off the nephew ; the nephew enables us to under- 
stand the uncle. And not only the nephew. King 
John's character brings out the character of the 
King of France ; and of Pandulph, the Pope's legate ; 
and of Constance, Arthur's mother ; and of Elinor, 
his own mother ; and of Faulconbridge, the like- 
ness of his brother Richard; of Hubert, his agent; 
of the English Barons, Pembroke and Salisbury ; and 
many more besides. If John had been thrown into 
the background, or had been made better or worse 
than he was, each of these would have come out in 
false proportions, in a wrong light. Shakespeare has 
given us a John whom we can believe in ; a villain, 
but not an all-black villain ; one whose baseness comes 
out by degrees as opportunities for evil doings occur ; 
who might have passed for a courageous assertor of his 
royal dignity, if the gloss and varnish of his profes- 
sions had not been rubbed off in temptation. Such a 
man explains the occurrences of his reign better than 
a hundred discourses could have explained them. We 
do not want to be taken to Runnymede, and to be 
shown how the Barons wrung the Charter from him. 


That might have made a good scene for a melodrama, 
or have furnished an excuse for very eloquent ha- 
rangues ; but for the history it is much more important 
to know what sort of man the King was ; how he was 
likely to lose the affection and allegiance of his lords ; 
how they were likely to act when they were estranged 
from him. That Shakespeare has had insight to per- 
ceive; that he helps us to perceive. We may want 
other information hereafter, but we may be very 
thankful for this. 

You may see from this instance how a very unkingly 
King about the last, one would have thought, that a 
poet would have chosen for his subject may never- 
theless influence the .transactions of a period, and bind 
them together. Shakespeare appears as if he had 
almost intended to force this lesson upon us. The 
very next play in his English series to that of " John " 
is "Richard II.," a still more desperate undertaking 
than the former, if an heroic man was wanted. There 
is actually no hero, or heroine, in the whole poem. It 
is throughout the picture of a weak, helpless ruler, 
and a weak, helpless age. Richard cannot govern ; his 
nobles cannot obey. They charge each other with 
lying, and treachery ; they are ready to fight on that 
issue ; he gives them leave, then withdraws it, and 
banishes them. Kinghood in his hand becomes mere 
reckless indulgence. The land is farmed for his debts ; 
the estates of his uncle are confiscated ; his cousin 
comes from exile to claim them ; he becomes the 
popular champion. The King has a vague sense that 


there is a divinity hedging him round ; that, somehow, 
rebellion cannot overtake him. But it does overtake 
him. He utters eloquent speeches ; but he cannot act. 
Only in suffering, something nobler comes forth in 
him. He who, when the world went well with him, 
was a mere child and fool, in prison and in death 
shows that he had a heart with which we can sympa- 
thize. It is the story of a broken man, a dilapidated 
and exhausted period. But it is a perfectly true pic- 
ture; and the truth of it arises from Shakespeare's 
perception, that the ruler and his people correspond to 
each other; and that, when they sow the wind to- 
gether, they will reap the whirlwind together. 

The following reign of Henry IV. is altogether 
unlike this, full of action and interest. The King is 
again the type and pattern of his subjects. His head 
lies uneasily; he cannot persuade sleep to visit him. 
The Prince must spend his superfluous energies in 
robberies on Gad's Hill. All the nobles in the north, 
Scotch and English, are in commotion ; Hotspur must 
be always on horseback; Glendower hears all the 
spirits in the vasty deep beckoning him to recover 
the Welsh Border ; even Falstaff must quit Eastcheap, 
and his jests, and lead his ragged corps to Shrewsbury. 
The play of " Henry IV." is a drama according to the 
true force of the word. All are doing. 

Again, in " Henry V.," the nation's strength, and the 
nation's evil, are gathered up in the King. In his wild 
days he has established a sympathy with his people. 
They like the man who can pass so rapidly from the 


Boar's Head riots to the invasion of France. He is 
entirely their master ; yet he is one with them ; able 
to assume the common soldier, mix in their ranks, 
acquaint himself with the opinions of his host, and 
then go lurch with them to endure all risks of defeat, 
and to give them confidence of victory. And yet I do 
not think the splendour of Agincourt is so full of this 
lesson as the time of discomfiture, commotion, and civil 
war, which follows. The weak, good, boy-sovereign is 
in a most remarkable sense the centre of all that 
strife. His presence is felt through every stage of 
it. He cannot compose it in the least. He has not 
a notion of composing it. He has not a notion 
of asserting his royalty, or of compelling others to 
obey ; but he has the most entire wish to be right, the 
most humble sense of his own incapacity. That sense 
grows with his growth. All the turbulent spirits 
gather about him ; his wife tyrannizes over him ; York 
becomes his rival. He remains a witness a real wit- 
ness, however ineffectual for the time that there is a 
Divine order which is higher than all the fierce wills 
and self-seeking purposes of men, and will at last 
subdue them to itself. 

If I went on to the play of "Richard III.," who 
winds up the Plantagenet period, and whose super- 
natural villany is the means of avenging its crimes, 
and of bringing in a better era still more, if I spoke 
of " Henry VIII.," the one drama of the Tudor period, 
I might show you how much Shakespeare has done 
for the illustration of every part of our annals, by 


adhering strictly to what I may call his " Royal " 
method. The last example is a specially strong one. 
As we hear nothing directly of the Great Charter in 
his " King John," so we hear nothing directly of the 
Reformation in his " Henry VIII." 

Henry VIII., the mover of the English Reformation, 
whose assertion of his own supremacy was the protest 
against the Roman supremacy, is brought out fully and 
distinctly before us ; not as a monster, not as a hero, 
but as a monarch with a resolute will, with a con- 
science and inclination often at variance, often strangely 
confused; capable of doing justice, capable of gross 
injustice. And Katherine, the best and purest lady of 
the old time ; Anne Boleyn, a lively representation of 
the new time ; Wolsey, the most splendid of the 
worldly Churchmen, of whom the nobles and the 
people for different reasons are wearied; Cranmer, 
suspected as a heretic by them, upheld by the King's 
belief in his honest}' ; a number of other figures, all 
contributing to the pageants of the time, all exhibiting 
its solemn and tragical character, stand about the 
throne in various relations to the sovereign. He who 
will study them in that position, grouped as Shake- 
speare has grouped them, will obtain hints respecting 
the great movement of the age which neither those 
who contemplate it simply from the Protestant, or 
simply from the Romanist, point of view, can give 

I do not say for a moment that we ought to be 
satisfied with this way of considering King John's age 


or King Henry's age. I merely maintain that it is a 
good way, and that no other which has yet been dis- 
covered will enable us to dispense with it. Shake- 
speare has taught us not to choose out dainty bits of 
our national records, and to feed exclusively upon 
them. He has shown us that any period, the most 
apparently flat and dull, the most turbulent and be- 
wildering, contains its lesson, and will give out that 
lesson if we deal fairly with it, and do not force it into 
conformity with our own notions. He has shown us 
that each reign has a certain completeness, that it can 
be considered as an integral portion of a Divine drama. 
He has shown us, at the same time, that the reigns 
are inseparably linked together; that the events of 
one grow out of those of the other; that every one 
is scattering some seed of curses or blessings which 
another will have to gather in. He has made us feel 
that no varieties in the vegetable or animal kingdom 
can equal the varieties which a passage of human 
history reveals, if we only watch the one as a naturalist 
watches the other. But he shows us also the unifor- 
mity amidst the variety ; that men of former centuries 
are like, in essentials, to those who are walking the 
earth and taking part in the affairs of kingdoms now. 
And that neither then nor now could they arrange 
things as they liked, or alter laws and principles 
because they found them inconvenient. 

If Shakespeare's historical plays have helped us to 
make these discoveries, we can apply them in cases 
where we have not his guidance. A man of genius 


does us good just so far as he makes us see things more 
truly, more as they are. If he puts himself, or his 
own opinions, or his wit, between us and the things, 
he does us harm. I believe Shakespeare has done this 
less than most of those whom we call historians ; 
therefore, though I am glad to profit by their correc- 
tions of his mistakes, I think on the whole he has set 
us on a better track of investigation than the most 
popular of them have done. 

I will allude to one of them, the one who, some 
will think, deserves the title of a " Royalist " historian 
much better than Shakespeare does. David Hume 
began his English History from the time of our Stuart 
princes ; about them he said he found that there was 
most of party misrepresentation. His business as a 
philosopher was to clear that misrepresentation away. 
What he meant was this: He disliked intensely the 
Covenanters of his own land, and the English Puri- 
tans. He liked Charles I. because he resisted them, 
and because he was a patron of letters and of art. 
The Whig party, which was in ascendency in the days 
of George II., was also displeasing to Hume ; partly 
because Sir Robert Walpole, their chief Minister, was 
indifferent about literature, partly because their poli- 
tical maxims were not in accordance with those which 
he had learnt both in Scotland and France. Hume 
was quite as much of a Frenchman as a Scotchman ; 
he had formed his mind under French influence. Now 
the French philosophers of the eighteenth century 
hoped much from monarchs in the war they were 


waging against priests ; popular assemblies even such 
semi-popular assemblies as the parliaments of France 
they suspected. Hume, therefore, came back from that 
country with all his Stuart feeling, all his dislike of the 
Covenanters, strongly reinforced. They had spoken 
of a Divine government as higher than any earthly 
government. In such a government Hume had no 
belief; he desired to destroy any thought or dream of 
it in his countrymen. He found that the Covenanters 
had been ready to fight and die for a conviction. That 
struck him as an idle and fantastic enthusiasm, which 
a man of a quiet temperament and philosophical habit 
of mind ought to discourage and scorn. In this spirit 
he wrote the first volumes of his work, upon the model 
of which all the rest was formed. He held a brief for 
Charles I. against the English Parliament and the 
Scotch Covenanters. No one could have pleaded more 
dexterously in support of his client. He contended, 
that whatever breaches of law and stretches of pre- 
rogative could be alleged against him, had been com- 
mitted by previous sovereigns ; the notion of violating 
a Constitution was absurd. Where was the Constitu- 
tion? If it was on paper, it had gone for nothing 
when any strong will, like that of Henry VIII. or 
Elizabeth, had been disposed to set it aside. 

These arguments made Hume for a short time un- 
popular. They set at nought doctrines which the 
Whigs of that day and their predecessors had always 
contended for ; the nation was not prepared to abandon 
them. But in a few years the booksellers found the 


copies which they had supposed to be unreadable 
vanishing from their counters. Failure gave place to 
an unparalleled success. Hume's History established 
itself as the History of England to be read by all 
gentlemen, and to be taught in all schools. I remem- 
ber reading some years ago, in a periodical of high 
reputation and authority, if I do not mistake in the 
Quarterly Review, the broad assertion, that no other 
can ever take its place ; that Englishmen as little 
want a new Constitution as they want a substitute for 
Hume's History. 

That comparison was specially unfortunate; for 
Hume, whatever be his other merits, is emphatically 
the " unconstitutional " historian. One would call him 
the ingenious advocate for attacks upon the Constitu- 
tion, supposing he had entertained the least faith that 
a Constitution existed, that it was not a mere name or 
fiction. It is Hume's work which has been the chief 
impulse to the class of works on English History which 
are called Constitutional. They have been mainly 
written to show that what he deemed a fiction was a 
reality; that its principles and its growth can be 
traced; that, however often it might have been 
assaulted in one time or other, the acts which assaulted 
it were wrong acts, and were felt to be wrong; that 
the Parliaments of Charles the First's time were per- 
fectly right in appealing to old charters which testified 
against these acts; that if those Parliaments them- 
selves, or one of them, afterwards committed breaches 
of the Constitution, it did at last vindicate itself both 


against Parliament and the King. Evidence was given 
that there is a Code which binds them both, and which 
neither can trample upon with impunity. Histories 
written with this object, or with some such object as 
this, have, it seems to me, a very great value. When 
they are undertaken by men of such large erudition, 
such conscientious diligence, and such calm, judicial 
minds, as the late Mr. Hallam, they must be full of pre- 
cious instruction for all kinds of people. But even less 
careful students and thinkers than he was, have done 
exceedingly good service by the light which they have 
thrown upon one and another passage of our annals, 
and of our laws; by the clear evidence which they 
have brought to show, that English liberty is not 
something to be talked of in school-boy themes, or in 
speeches at hustings ; that it has a substantial meaning, 
and that each generation has accepted it as an inheri- 
tance which it was to maintain and to transmit. This 
constitutional mode of treating history is unquestion- 
ably opposed to the Humean mode of treating it. But 
I believe the Humean method is even more directly 
opposed to the Shakespearian method. I do not find 
that Hume's King has anything like the same position 
with the Shakespearian King. He is simply the antago- 
nist of his Parliament or his people. He neither comes 
forth himself with any distinctness, nor does he throw 
any clear light upon those around him. With all the 
skill of Hume in defending Charles I. from attacks and 
objections, he does not inspire us with as much interest 
for him as Shakespeare awakens in us for so poor a 


creature as Richard II. It is difficult in any part of 
Hume's History to find any man, or any woman, whom 
simply as such, one can reverence or love. Their 
actions are reported in a most flowing, agreeable style. 
The historian makes many sage observations about 
them; but we do not know them at all, or care for 
them; and it is difficult to believe that the historian 
did either. 

On the other hand, there is no contradiction be- 
tween Shakespeare's " kingly " Histories and the true 
" constitutional " Histories. They supply what he has 
left blank. They help us to understand how the Kings' 
reigns came to be so significant, so full of eminent 
actors and sufferers, as he shows us that they were. 
These Histories interpret the fact that kings like John, 
in spite of their own meanness, give each a colour to 
their time, and in some measure determine what its 
character shall be. And by bringing the two together, 
and using them each for its own purpose, we correct 
some exaggerations into which those who adhere ex- 
clusively to either frequently fall. Thus, for instance, 
Lord Macaulay has said that our history properly begins 
with King John, because that is the reign in which the 
Charter was won. Now that opinion, it seems to me, 
destroys the very meaning of the Charter; for the 
Charter speaks of rights which already belong to 
Englishmen, and of which the King had no business 
to deprive them. If it had made that right which had 
been wrong before, we should not reverence it as we 
do; nor would the King have stooped his neck to 


receive it. We must not start from King John if we 
would understand what King John was obliged to do. 
We must see how a law was established by the Roman 
legions when they made roads, raised walls, turned 
their camps into towns and workshops, set up courts 
of justice for our Celtic ancestors; how a deeper order 
which is expressed in domestic institutions, in the 
reverence of husbands and wives, and of fathers and 
children, came forth amidst all the wildness of the 
Saxons, and was the basis of their freedom ; how law 
and order are connected with the Message of the King- 
dom of God and the work of Christian Missionaries ; 
how the Norman, even when he proclaimed himself a 
conqueror, was obliged to acknowledge a stronger law, a 
firmer order, than had existed before, one from which 
he could not exempt himself unless he could exempt 
his vassals from it. Then we shall see what the 
Charter was, and why it extended farther and embraced 
more classes than its framers might have wished ; why 
it became a document of freedom to all succeeding 
generations. And so we escape another fault which is 
sometimes imputed to these " constitutional " Histories. 
They are said to be dry and formal records rather of 
legislation and political alterations, than of that which 
men did and had endured. That charge will in no 
wise apply to them, if we associate them with the other 
kind of Histories; then they will be full of life. If, for 
instance, we asked ourselves, how did these nobles, 
whom we find growing so restive under King John, 
acquire the power to control his movements ? how did 


these ecclesiastics, whose revenues he plundered and 
whose spiritual mastery he defied, acquire those re- 
venues or obtain that mastery ? we should be led 
back ID to the constitution of the Feudal monarchies, 
and see what part the kings, and the nobles, and the 
priests bore in them; how each checked the other; 
how each bore witness to the other of old customs and 
fixed principles which they could not transgress ; and 
numbers of stories, which lie scattered about in old 
books, of fierce words and deeds spoken or acted by 
one or the other, would come in to show us what this 
Constitution meant, and how each class of men chafed 
at the bit and tried to get it out of their mouths, and 
how, if either of them succeeded, there came an anarchy; 
and then how out of the anarchy order rose again, but 
with new enemies to contend against it. And if we 
asked further, what was to come out of this strife of 
Kings and Barons, and whether they were to be ever 
at peace, or whether they were to be alone in their 
battles, the next reign would give us an answer full 
of striking incidents, and a deep moral. Henry III. 
swears to observe the Charter to which his father had 
sworn. He breaks his oath. He offends his English 
nobles by choosing French favourites. One of these, 
De Montfort, becomes their leader in opposition to 
him. Soon he looks farther than the Barons. He 
summons Knights of the shire and Burgesses of the 
town, to consult with them. The Parliament as- 
sumes a new shape. A Commons' House is joined 
to it. The rebellion of Leicester introduces the most 


important of all developments in the English Consti- 
tution. That development would have been impossible 
if other changes had not taken place first. The old 
Saxon population, deprived of their lands, have become 
the tradesmen and citizens of the English towns. A 
middle-class has grown up, consisting mainly of them ; 
they have obtained charters and formed corporations. 
They speak the old language of the country. That 
language, crushed under the foreign speech of the 
Court, has risen again, strengthened by its mixture 
with that, and with the Latin which is taught in the 
schools. The English Commons have found their 
English tongue, and so they are able to make their 
voices heard in an English Council of the Wise. 
Though a rebel has first summoned them, the kings 
who succeed claim their presence. They count it a 
hardship ; for they are summoned to London chiefly 
to impose taxes on the people who send them. By 
degrees they become conscious of their power ; those 
who lay on taxes can complain of grievances. They 
exercise the right in various ways. The monarchs 
feel the new power. Sometimes it is a restraint upon 
them ; sometimes they are glad of it, for it is a check 
upon the power of the nobles ; still more it is a check 
upon the power of the clergy. For this new estate, 
which represents the towns and the yeomen of the 
soil, has been influenced by the preaching of WyclifFe 
and of the English secular or parish clergy, who mix 
with the people ; who dislike the friars and foreigners ; 
who dislike the higher ecclesiastical orders as worldly. 


The Commons' House, even if it sometimes is content to 
pass statutes against heretics, yet shows honest jealousy 
of continental priests, and is very glad to tax those who 
have large revenues. They are glad to work with the 
kings for these objects ; to thwart them when they are 
not strictly national. They gladly second the efforts 
of Henry VIII. to set himself free from the yoke of 
Rome, even though by doing so they may strengthen 
his prerogative. They are heart and soul with Eliza- 
beth, let her notions of her own power be ever so lofty, 
whilst they feel that that power is used to assert her 
position as an English Queen, their position as an 
English people. But they become the stout anta- 
gonists of the sovereign's power the moment it begins 
to be asserted, as they suppose it to be by the Stuarts, 
for its own sake and not for the nation's sake. 

There is a profound interest in tracing these steps 
in our constitutional history, which are regular and 
consistent, though they are so unlike each other, and 
which come out best and most clearly in a number of 
special incidents, and which illustrate the temper and 
feelings of the men who are concerned in them, and of 
the times in which they occurred. Vague declama- 
tions about the growth of Institutions do not help us 
half so much as the deeds and words of the men who 
watched this growth, and tried wisely or ignorantly 
to hasten it or hinder it. No one has done more to 
show us this than the eminent man whose dictum 
about King John's reign I have disputed. Lord 
Macaulay, " constitutional " writer as he is, has helped 


us to read the History of the Revolution by giving a 
prominence and a worth to the character of William 
III. which it had never received from any previous 
historian. We have a person at the centre of the 
epoch. We see him setting in movement the best 
efforts of the age, controlling the most turbulent 
parties of the age. 

But I said that some writers in our day were im- 
patient of both these kinds of History, the Royal and 
the Constitutional, and wanted what they called a 
"People's History" to be a substitute for them. It 
is all very well, they say, for mere amusement, to read 
these dramas about the acts of kings. "We may 
learn, as you say, something about other human 
characters while we consider theirs; good, no doubt, 
may come from knowing how the Nobles in old times, 
how the Commons in later times, wrestled for privi- 
leges or rights, and won them. But the great mass 
in every period what do we learn of them from 
studying these few people, who were connected more 
or less closely with the Court ? What have all these 
fights done for their condition ? " These are questions 
which ought to be asked, and which, I think, can in 
some measure be answered. But we shall not get the 
answer, I suspect, if we sever the people's history from 
the other histories ; if we try to make it a thing by 
itself. We must settle this maxim in our minds. That 
which is inorganic cannot be described. The moment 
any class or any country becomes organized, or seeks 
to become so, it acquires a history ; you can speak of 


it, and write of it. I may lament that such little 
countries as Greece or Italy should usurp such a large 
portion of the records of the old world ; that enormous 
continents should lie almost in entire shadow, and 
should only just become known to us by the light 
which is thrown on them by these small races. But 
it cannot be otherwise. These societies had a life and 
an order, or were trying for one. That brings them 
within our observation. We can contemplate them 
as p'arts of a human society; not as a mere collec- 
tion of atoms that are struggling against each other. 
If we attend to this maxim, we shall not murmur, 
as at first we may very naturally do, because History 
seems to include so few figures, and to cover so small 
a ground. But, on the other hand, we shall feel the 
most extreme desire that it should take in more 
figures, and cover a larger ground. We shall under- 
stand that the Royal records, and the Constitutional 
Histories, do not merely concern the persons whose 
names stand forward in them. All those who have 
done anything worth doing have been intentionally, 
or unintentionally, working for others besides them- 
selves ; working for the whole land in which they 
dwelt ; working for generations unborn. No one pur- 
pose which they achieved could be limited by the 
circle for which they framed it ; no principle which 
they asserted could be confined by their notions of 
what it meant. The framers of the Magna Charta 
may have been barons or ecclesiastics. But the laws 
which they affirmed for their protection worked after- 


wards for the protection and the elevation of the 
lowest serf. Do not suppose, then, that we must 
repeat the History that has been accomplished, that 
we must re-write the History that has been written 
in our land, in order that we may do justice to 
this subject, in order that we may give it all the pro- 
minence which is due to it. If we take that course, 
the People's History will become a mere remonstrance 
and denunciation, a perpetual attempt to show why 
things should have been other than they have been ; 
that is to say, no history at all, merely a new scheme 
of the universe, an effort of imagination to conceive a 
country which has not been, and which I rather fancy 
would have been utterly intolerable if it could have 
been. Whereas, if we accept the older method as our 
starting-point, we may be continually inquiring what 
the Kings or Parliaments were doing, or were not 
doing, to make the body of the people sharers in the 
blessings of the land, citizens in the full sense of that 
word. Such an inquiry would involve the history of 
all the steps which led to the abolition of serfdom in 
England, the records of our Poor-law legislation, an 
account of agrarian tumults, and the efforts to suppress 
them or remove the occasions of them; all accounts 
that can be obtained of municipal government, and of 
the ways in which men became freeholders in the 
counties, or freemen in the towns. It would contain 
a great chapter on the foundations of our schools, and 
on the efforts which have been made from the earliest 
time to bring one or another class under education ; it 


would involve all illustrations that could be got of 
the domestic life of our people, anything that would 
show how far they were becoming capable of national 
organization by realizing that organization which 
there is in every household. What individuals or 
legislation had done, therefore, to make their houses 
more habitable, their homes more like home, would be 
a part of this subject. To discover what had been 
the popular feeling of any time as indicated by the 
ballads, pictures, plays, that were current in that 
time ; what influences of this kind were acting upon 
the lower class from the upper classes, what were 
proceeding from itself, would be one of the most im- 
portant objects of the historian. With this must be 
combined an examination of those great effects which 
were produced by the Mendicant Friars in the 
thirteenth century, by Wycliffe and the Lollards in 
the fourteenth and fifteenth, by Latimer and the Re- 
forming Preachers who addressed themselves directly 
to the people in the sixteenth century, by the Puri- 
tans in the seventeenth, by the Methodists in the 
eighteenth ; together with all the more ordinary and 
regular effects that were produced by parochial 

I have included this last subject in the Popular 
History, though you would say, perhaps, that it be- 
longs more properly to the last class of histories which 
I named, the Ecclesiastical. I have done so because 
my object throughout has been to show you that these 
classes, though they may be distinguished, cannot be 


separated, and that each is ruined and made useless 
by the attempt to give it an exclusive character. 
To no kind of histories, I conceive, does that remark 
more strictly apply than to the one about which I 
have now to say a very few words. If the Eccle- 
siastic endeavours to divorce his subject from the 
general life of the country, from the story of its 
Kings, its Parliaments, the body of its people, the 
result will be that he exhibits the Church as a 
corporation which has interests different from all 
these, opposed to them all. He will then become 
a very miserable apologist for failures and sins that 
ought to be confessed; or he will try to throw the 
blame of them upon persons whom he treats as 
enemies. And these enemies will be continually mul- 
tiplying. Not only Kings, Statesmen, Parliaments, 
will be complained of as obstructing the purposes of 
the Church, or interfering with its rights ; all schools 
and parties, except the one to which the historian 
belongs, will be called in to account for the evils which 
it has not cured, to explain why the powers with 
which it has been entrusted have not effected what 
they might have effected. Now, it seems to me, that 
if the Church historian was faithful to his own maxim, 
faithful to the precedent which he regards, or should 
regard, with most reverence, he would take the course 
which is the most opposite to this. The last thing 
that a Jewish prophet would have thought of was 
to make apologies for his own order, or for the order 
of priests, or to separate their interests or their wrong- 


doings from those of the kings, of their advisers, or 
of the whole land. That which he had to do was, to 
bear witness of a Divine and Righteous Power, higher 
than kings or their advisers ; a Power always exerting 
itself for the moral good and renovation of the land, 
which king, and priests, and prophets might obey or 
might resist ; with which they might co-operate, or 
which they might thwart ; but which would work out 
its purposes by means of them, or in spite of them. 
And Ecclesiastical History written with this convic- 
tion, under the power of this belief, could not be 
a party history ; it must be a witness against the party 
tendencies of the writer, and of all other persons what- 
ever. He must be more on the watch against them 
in himself than in anyone else. He must be glad to 
hail the good in each party which has kept it alive 
and made it necessary, and saved it from being merely 
a check on the good of every other. So he will be 
able to welcome the services which the priests of the 
Middle Ages rendered to society by their conflicts 
with the usurpations of the kings; and the service 
which the kings rendered to society by their battles 
with the usurpations of the priests. He will hail every 
influence, proceeding from Dominican or Franciscan, 
which bore witness that the poor man had a spirit 
within him to which Divine words could reach; he 
will detest influences proceeding from the same men 
just where they tended to degrade the poor man's 
spirit and make him their victim and slave. He will 
recognize every power that went forth from the Church 


to assert the serf as a brother, and so to break his 
chains; he will regard every effort to put another 
kind of chain upon him as a treason against the 
principles of the Church, as an act of Atheism. He 
will welcome the efforts of any Reformers who tried 
to break these chains in the Divine Name. He will 
be sure, that as soon as they begin to set up in their 
own name, and to conquer with this name, they must 
become impostors and oppressors. So far as the priest 
bore witness of a universal and everlasting order 
which binds all men, and which they cannot break 
through without destroying themselves, so far he 
would see in him a great upholder of constitutional 
order in every land; so far as the priest set up his own 
self-will, or the self-will of any monarch, against such 
a constitution, so far, by the same rule, he must be a 
transgressor. If in the strength which he declares to 
be Divine, he combats with all forms of wrong and in- 
justice, and sacrifices himself in the struggle, he must 
be worthy of the highest honour ; if he pretends that 
the evil is stronger than the good, if he enters into 
compact with it, and makes use of it for his own ad- 
vancement, he must be more guilty than all others. 

I have thus endeavoured to show you that the dif- 
ferent methods of writing English history which have 
been presented for our choice need not be rivals ; that 
we want them all; that each, rightly used used, I 
mean, in conformity with its own pretensions will 
illustrate the rest ; and I would say just the same 
about the opinions of different writers. It does not 


seem to me that we need have that fear of Tories, or 
Whigs, or Democrats, which some entertain. If each 
of them tell us frankly what he believes, if he brings 
before us what he has seen, and admires and loves, we 
may be very thankful to him ; we may be sure that 
he is doing his best, that he is giving us the help 
which he was meant to give. The Whigs of his day 
found fault with Hume for reverencing and "drop- 
ping a generous tear " for the sorrows of Charles I. and 
Strafford. I find no such fault with him. " Generous 
tears " can do no harm. I think he indulged in many 
ungenerous sneers at the enemies of Charles I. and of 
Strafford ; that he did no justice to their purposes and 
their sufferings. I wish he had twenty royal heroes 
instead of .one. It is the utter want of belief in any- 
thing heroic, of reverence for any man, that one mourns 
in him. It is this, I hold, by which he has done injury 
to the sons and daughters of England. But I do not 
want to commence a crusade against his History. For 
its clever special pleading, for its exquisitely easy 
style, it is entitled to all the respect it has received. 
It will do no one any harm who has learned in his 
father's house, or from other teachers, that there is 
something in earth and heaven which is worth living 
and dying for. It may do him good, as the drunken- 
ness of the helots did the young Spartans good, by 
inspiring him with a dread of utter indifference and 

And as with the Royalist, so with the Constitu- 
tional, Historians. A very little allowance less thau 


our natural suspicion disposes us to make will save 
us from any false impressions which their partiality for 
individual men might make upon us. Everyone is on 
his guard against Lord Macaulay's defence of William 
III. in the case of the Massacre of Glencoe, or of his 
jobs in behalf of the favourite, Portland. If the author 
had been less ingenious in his apologies for them, they 
would have detracted less in our minds from the real 
fame of his hero. Whenever he is truly in love with a 
man or with a principle, I would trust him in the main, 
and try to keep up with his admiration ; but I would 
not trust his portrait of Marlborough. That is not credi- 
ble. There may have been all the covetousness, all the 
baseness, in his character which he imputes to it ; but 
there must have been something else, something which 
the biographer has not seen, or the man could not have 
done what he did. I give you these instances in 
support of a doctrine which I know is not generally 
accepted, but which I think will bear to be tested 
that negative opinions and bitter antipathies are what 
impose upon us most mischievously; that positive 
beliefs, if they be ever so vehement, cordial sympathies, 
if they be ever so extravagant, will contribute elements 
of knowledge, of interest, of hope, to our studies, which 
would otherwise be flat and dreary. We do not want 
a neutral sort that is neither Tory, Whig, nor Demo- 
cratic ; we want each in its strength, each to tell us 
something that is not in the other. 

But is not history becoming hopeless and intermin- 
able ? Is not every subject literature, physical science, 


art, legislation, military tactics growing to be a part 
of it ? Who can dream of mastering all the principles, 
all the details, which are necessary for the thorough 
understanding of a few years; to say nothing of a 
reign, or the annals of a country ? No one, surely. 
But there are two sides to this objection. Beneath the 
theoretical difficulty there lies a practical advantage. 
Every subject has so much to do with history, that 
every man who is devoted to any subject, whose 
business is mainly with that, has a road which leads 
him to history, has a point of affinity with all the 
transactions of his land. If art, trade, physical science, 
military tactics, have all to do with it ; the artist, the 
tradesman, the student of physics, the soldier, may 
each claim his right in the history, may each bring his 
contribution to it. Beginning the study from his own 
topic, working at it for the sake of that, he finds him- 
self unawares in contact with the friends whose occu- 
pations are the most alien from his ; he is asking their 
help, they are asking his. 

By this means the professional writer becomes less 
of a pedant, while he feels much more the dignity of 
his profession. And we feel that we learn more of 
history from him than from one who has no special 
calling, because he writes it dramatically. It is for 
him something that is done, not merely that is talked 
about. We civilians understand, I think, the retreat 
of Corunna better from Sir Charles Napier's narrative 
of it than we could do from anyone who had not 
been an eye-witness, or was a less competent eye- 


witness. And the hero of Scinde can afford to tell 
us of his own fears at that time as no less brave 
man could. A commercial man who would take us 
through his campaigns in times of success and of 
panic must in like manner be a great instructor 
respecting that which concerns the whole body politic, 
as well as respecting the trials of its particular mem- 
bers. We need not read all that they say ; but each 
one gives us some hints which make the general course 
of our history more intelligible. And the antiquary 
and the critic of documents find each his own proper 
place. We have not time to bestow on mere prosers ; 
but the Dryasdusts may pick up real gems amidst 
heaps of rubbish ; critics may sometimes give us such 
knowledge as will convict all who have gone before 
them of ignorance. 

Least of all need we be dismayed by the last com- 
plaint to which I alluded, that we have no time for 
the records of the past because we are so busy with the 
present. If, indeed, we mean that we have acquired 
such a habit of craving for some new thing that we 
cannot tolerate anything that is old, that is a serious 
disease, a disease which will prove fatal to any nation 
which does not seek some timely cure of it. If we 
mean that we find the exclusive study of newspapers 
continually aggravating this tendency, and moreover 
taking away from us the capacity for rising above the 
public opinion, or the private opinions, of the age in 
which we live, and of those who guide its thoughts, 
this also is a discovery which should lead to serious 


reflection and a serious course of action. But neither 
of these dangers arises from any calamity in our posi- 
tion. These dangers suggest, as all our circumstances 
suggest, that we especially need the lessons of our 
past history, and that as we need them, we may better 
than others profit by them. The life of a recluse 
student may be favourable to the mere work of poring 
over books, or of deciphering manuscripts. It is not 
the most favourable to the work of learning the toils 
and struggles of human beings, the Divine drama which 
is ever unfolding itself before our eyes. We must be 
alive that we may know that which has lived and does 
live. But we cannot live merely in the passing in- 
stant. That which holds us tied and bound to that 
instant is death. Our English history, like the history 
of our own selves, is a message to us concerning that 
which is, and was, and will be evermore. 



I AM to speak to you to-night of a very long poem, 
the longest perhaps in the English language. Few 
persons probably have read it from beginning to end. 
There are some who are frightened from reading it at all. 
I believe it is not only the length which frightens them. 
They do not know exactly what to make of the title, 
and they have heard strange rumours about certain 
hidden meanings in it which they must guess at, and 
which, after taking great pains, they may perhaps never 
discover. It may be worth while, they say, for people 
who have leisure and great sagacity to spend their time 
in spelling out the conceits of an old author. There 
may be a certain pleasure in hitting the mark, and some, 
perhaps, even in sending the arrows which fall most 
wide of it. But people who are busy, and can only take 
up a poem now and then for an evening's entertain- 
ment, can hardly be expected to give themselves 
this trouble. They would rather find an author who 

1 Delivered at the Working Men's College, about 1864. 


will tell them out plainly what he wishes them to 

I am sorry that an opinion of this kind should pre- 
vail. For I am sure Spenser's " Faery Queene " is good 
reading for all kinds of people, especially for all people 
born on this English soil. Whatever its title may 
seem to say, it is not a poem about some imaginary 
unknown world, but about the world in which you 
and I are dwelling. It was written by an Englishman 
who lived in the most English reign in our history, 
and whose heart was as full as any man's ever was 
of English feelings and sympathies^ And it is a book 
about those things in which all Englishmen, and all 
men, are interested equally. Edmund Spenser had 
some friends among courtiers and among learned men. 
But he did not, on the whole, succeed well at Court, 
and it is not among learned people that he has been 
the greatest favourite. In fact, till courtiers and 
scholars find out that the greatest treasure, the highest 
glory, they have is that which they have in common 
with every clown, they never will understand rightly 
any great poet ; they will never learn what he has done 
to teach them. 

Edmund Spenser belongs to us who live now in 
London. He was born in East Smithfield in 1553; 
he died in King Street, Westminster, in 1598. He may 
have been connected with high families ; but he seems 
to have been poor ; for when he was sixteen he went to 
Pembroke Hall, at Cambridge, as a sizar that is, as 
a poor student. He was not happy, apparently, at 


Cambridge; though he owed to it at least one good 
friend, and he must have brought away from it some 
good knowledge. When he left it he went as a private 
tutor into the North ; then he came to London, and 
became acquainted with one of the noblest men of the 
time, Sir Philip Sidney. There are some stories told 
to explain how they found each other out. I do not 
think they are worth record; we may be sure that 
men who are meant to help each other, and love each 
other, will find each other out in some way. Sidney's 
life would have been altogether different without 
Spenser, and Spenser's without Sidney; so we need 
not fancy that the poet had to wait at the great man's 
door, while he was looking over part of the "Faery 
Queene," before he learnt that he was worth more 
than all the gold that Sidney or anyone else had to give 
him. Sir Walter Raleigh, who had not perhaps as 
thoroughly pure a spirit as Sidney, but who had wider 
thoughts, a more daring love of enterprise, and, I should 
think, a more real understanding of poetry than he had, 
was also one o Spenser's dearest friends. Sidney and 
Raleigh believed, like wise men as they were, that 
one who could sing beautiful songs was not at all less 
fitted for civil employment on that account would 
probably have more sympathy and fellowship with 
human beings, than those who had been brought up 
amidst red tape ; and that, if he had a call for it, he 
would have just as much aptitude for business as any 
mere drudge. Perhaps through the influence of the Earl 
of Leicester, Sidney's uncle, Spenser was sent to Ireland 


as Secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton. He proved that 
his friends were sound in their judgment of him by 
writing the best " View of the State of Ireland," and of 
the condition of the people which, so far as I know, any 
Irish Secretary ever wrote. He married in Ireland, and 
worked away in his retirement at many of his minor 
poems, and at his great book, "The Faery Queene." 
Long as that poem is, it is incomplete, and the story 
goes that six books out of it were lost by Spenser's 
servant as he was crossing from Ireland. That, per- 
haps, was not the case ; and if it was, we may not have 
so much cause for regret. Spenser's fame may not 
have suffered so much as we might at first fancy. He 
may have spoken all\ he was meant to speak in the 
earlier books. The lost books may have been but the 
leavings of his mind ; they might not have helped us 
to understand him or ourselves better. I do not know, 
but I think we sometimes mourn rather overmuch 
about the works that great men intended to write and 
did not write, as well as about those that they did and 
that have perished. Even when they are histories, the 
gaps in our information, which we think so deplorable, 
may be partly filled up by an earnest study of the hints 
and memorials which remain to us. If more was told 
us about what has happened, we might be less diligent 
in comparing one scrap with another, and so discovering 
what really did happen. And when it is not history, 
but the thoughts and creations of men's minds we have 
been deprived of, we may reflect that every man can 
but give us fragments of his mind, and cannot by any 


means save us from the trouble of putting the frag- 
ments together. Most likely he has told us as much 
as he could tell us in what remains. We should make 
the best of what we have, and not waste our time in 
complaining of what we have not. There is a sadder 
story about Spenser himself than this about his poem, 
and part of it, I am afraid, we must believe. It was a 
wild time in Ireland when he was there. He has 
described to us better than almost anyone, what sort 
of people the old Celtic inhabitants were whom the 
English colonists came to subdue. He has described 
all their faults and brutality; but he has spoken of 
them with a living, poetical interest. And when he 
ceased to hold any Government appointment, he lived 
on his estate at Kilcolman, in the county of Cork, and 
cultivated it ; faithfully, I have no doubt, and with as 
much kindness to the native population as they would 
let him show. But an insurrection broke out under 
Tyrone. Spenser's house was burnt ; all his property 
was destroyed. It is even said that his infant child was 
in the house and could not be saved out of it. He and 
his wife had to fly to England, it would seem, penni- 
less. Ben Jonson says that Spenser died in Westminster 
for lack of bread, and that when the Earl of Essex sent 
him twenty pieces, he returned them, saying, he was 
sorry he had no time to spend them. One need not 
conclude that his friends who cared for him had for- 
gotten him, or that the Queen, if she had known his 
case, would not have provided for him. He was pro- 
bably downcast and broken-hearted, eager to shrink 


from those who would have been most willing to prove 
their affection to him, desirous only to lay down his 
head and be at rest. 

This story of the departure of such a man is melan- 
choly enough ; but there is nothing disgraceful in it, 
or in any part of the poet's biography. He had to 
pass through the suffering which enabled him to under- 
stand his fellow-men, and which proved that God was 
taking care of him. He also had many felicities which 
he was thankful for, and which we have reason to be 
thankful for, as they give a tone and character to all 
his poetry. The greatest of these felicities, I conceive, 
was that he was born in that English age of which I 
have spoken already. When I say that, you must not 
expect to find in Spenser frequent panegyrics upon his 
own age, as if it were the best that ever had been, or 
ever was to be. On the contrary, you will often hear 
him talking about the degeneracy of the period into 
which he was born, and of what men did and thought 
in the good old days that had passed away. It often 
makes one wonder to read such sentences, and then to 
find oneself exalting this very degenerate time as if it 
were immeasurably above our own. Did not Spenser 
know much more about it than we do ? Or is it the 
case, that every age is worse than that which went 
before it, and so that Queen Elizabeth's was worse than 
Henry the Fourth's or Henry the Fifth's, and that ours 
is much worse than Queen Elizabeth's ? I believe that 
Spenser did know much more about his time than we 
do ; and therefore that he saw a multitude of faults in 


it that are nearly hidden from us. I believe he would 
not have been nearly as good or as wise a man as he 
was, if he had not felt those faults and lamented over 
them more than he could over any that were at a dis- 
tance from him. The faults and sins of his time were 
his own faults and sins. They were those which he 
had to struggle with, which were tormenting him. How 
could any others distress him as these did ? How could 
he feel any others to be as great as they were ? When 
he talked of the good old times, he talked of what had 
survived to him of those old times. And that was the 
good, the permanent part of them the wheat which 
God had gathered into His garner. There was plenty 
of chaff mixed with that wheat; but that the wind 
had carried away. It was not blown into his eyes, as 
the chaff of his own time was. It is the same, I 
believe, always. If we are not feeling the evils of our 
own time much more keenly, much more painfully, 
than we do the errors of any other time, we cannot do 
the work we are meant to do, or fight the battle we 
have to fight. If we are always complimenting our 
age, that is only an ingenious roundabout way of com- 
plimenting ourselves. On the other hand, when we 
praise the past time, which those who were living in 
it found plenty of occasion to blame, we praise that 
which has passed through the fires, that which was not 
the vileness and corruption which they hated, and 
which they were doing what in them lay to destroy. 
And therefore one may say of any period which one 
looks back upon, wherein great men lived and great 


deeds were done " This was a great period " although 
one knows all the while that those great men were 
struggling with a host of littlenesses in themselves and 
in all around them although one knows that every 
great deed had some base and paltry deed close to it, 
and that there was an alloy of baseness and paltriness 
even in that which was noblest. 

It is in this sense that I call Queen Elizabeth's 
period a great period. It is in this sense that I speak 
of it as one of Spenser's felicities that he was born in 
that period. Do not suppose me to mean that it would 
have been good for you or me to have been born in it. 
We ought to wish for no lot but that which has been 
given us. We are made for Queen Victoria's time; 
we are fit for no other. Our instruments, our hands, 
our hearts, are given us to work with in this time, 
to struggle with the evil, to bring out the good in this 
time, in order that people may look back in after-days 
and say, " See what has come down to us from it ; 
see what good has survived all the wrong which those 
who dwelt in it tell us of; see what there was in it 
which we are to imitate." The blessing to Spenser was 
this, that the age into which he was born was just the 
one which was fittest to awaken all the powers that 
were latent in him, just the one which enabled him 
to understand what a man upon this earth has to strive 
for, as well as what he has to strive against. Much 
had departed in that reign which Englishmen had once 
thought very precious, or if not precious, at least neces- 
sary. A multitude of old legends, which had been the 


delight of the people, had been swept away by the 
Reformation. The Bible had been brought into the 
common tongue of the people, and had driven out a 
world of fancies about invisible things to which they 
had once paid reverence. Many men who saw these 
things said, " This is very melancholy ; the people 
think no more of fairies and enchantments which they 
had believed in ever since the pagan time, and they 
think no more of those stories of Saints which they 
had heard of from the Friars, and which had got 
mixed in their minds with their old nursery tales and 
rh}anes. What is to become of them ? How can they 
go on ? " And then, when they turned to the upper 
classes, they saw cause for doubts which appeared to 
have still greater justification. "The nobles and 
knights of England," they would say, " used to join in 
great battles of Christendom against the Infidels. 
They used to go on expeditions to help the weak; 
they were full of devotion to women. Now that has 
passed away. They have become proud and selfish; 
seekers of wealth and dignities for themselves. They 
have no thought of anything that belongs to all nations 
in common, anything that is earnest and devout, any- 
thing humble and chivalrous." There were great 
pretexts for such words as these ; pretexts to those 
who read the nobler achievements of the past times 
and forgot all the cruelty, meanness, malice of those 
times ; pretexts to those who read and who saw what 
the nobles and great men of their own time were 
doing, how little they seemed to care for the well- 


being of the land of which they were protectors, how 
they turned the Reformation and the Gospel into a 
means of bringing booty and plunder to themselves. 
Accordingly there were some who said, " If we could 
but bring back the old superstitions and the old 
notions about chivalry if we could but make our age 
like the age of our forefathers, what a triumph that 
would be ! " Such an experiment had been made in 
the reign preceding that to which Spenser belonged. 
It had ended in England's very nearly becoming a 
province of Spain. And what had Spain, which was 
the country that was to teach us chivalry and religion, 
been doing herself? She had been engaged in very 
mighty works, in very glorious enterprises. Her ships 
had discovered a New World ; her knights had gone 
forth to conquer it. They had shown a prowess 
certainly greater than any that their fathers had 
shown. They had professed a religion as strict ; but 
their enterprise, their chivalry, their religion, had all 
been turned to the acquisition of gold. The means 
were worthy of the end. For the religion, the chivalry, 
the enterprise, had been all brought to promote and to 
justify piracy, murder, every intolerable crime and 
cruelty. If Philip II. had continued the sovereign of 
England, this is the school in which Englishmen must 
have been trained. But it was appointed that he 
should not continue the sovereign of England. His 
queen died, and another queen reigned in her stead. 
Now was the time in which it was to be decided 
whether England could have knights and gentlemen 


of her own, formed upon a different pattern from those 
Spanish knights and gentlemen ; whether she must 
lose all the faith that belongs to men because she had 
parted with the stories that belong to children ; 
whether she could not have enterprise and chivalry 
without trying to bring back wars that belonged to 
another generation, which had not been very righteous, 
and which had not led to any great result in that 
generation ; whether England might not be a coloniz- 
ing country, and see the sights and breathe the air of 
the New World, without becoming the tormentor of 
its inhabitants and the slave of its gold. This was the 
question which our forefathers in that day had to 
answer. And I believe they did answer it ; not per- 
fectly, not without committing a great many sins, 
some of them the very same sins which their enemy 
had been guilty of, each of which was sure to bring 
down future punishments upon the land, but yet in a 
way that shows that they were obeying higher guid- 
ance than their own, that an unseen Wisdom was 
directing their counsels. What is most remarkable in 
that time, I think, is that sailors in their ships, states- 
men in their cabinets, knights in the court, divines in 
their pulpits, poets in their studies, without under- 
standing one another in the least, often contradicting 
and despising each other, were nevertheless all work- 
ing together to find out this answer were all contri- 
buting their quota to make it effectual for their country 
and for mankind. 

I am to tell you how I think one of the poets of 


that time applied himself to this task, and what kind 
of success he had. The words " Faery Queene " remind 
us that the poet was living under a queen. This is no 
fancy of mine ; Spenser tells us so again and again : 
and we must take him at his word, not giving him 
credit for flattery, or any low motive, for saying so, or 
we shall not understand the very purpose of his work, 
and the good that was accomplished by it. He felt 
all the distinguished men of his time felt that it was 
a blessing, a perfectly unspeakable blessing for Eng- 
land at that time, that it was governed by a woman. 
Perhaps there never was a time in our history when 
the country seemed so much to want the head and 
hand of a man, when vigour was so essential, when 
weakness would have been so fatal. And yet there 
never was a time when England was in so much 
danger of losing ail grace, refinement, deference to the 
weak; when worship of mere might, physical and 
intellectual, was so likely to have displaced every 
other worship. The two first Tudor princes had been 
men of mighty energy. Unlike in most respects, 
Henry VII. and his son had equally impressed their 
subjects with such a feeling of force and sovereignty 
as no previous generation had been conscious of. Then 
followed a boy, who died at sixteen, and a woman, 
who was the tool of a Spanish husband. Such reigns 
must have naturally awakened a longing for strong 
rule. If that rule had been a male one, it would pro- 
bably have been, either a frightful domestic tyranny, 
or one which absorbed all other thoughts in the 



thought of foreign conquest. The loyalty of England 
was drawn forth in a new form and character when 
Elizabeth proved that she possessed all the intellectual 
and moral force that was demanded of a sovereign, 
without ceasing to have the feelings, and tendernesses, 
and weaknesses of her sex. That this loyalty and 
attachment were spurious and affected, no man in his 
senses, who reads the acts and studies the literature 
of the period, can believe. They were most genuine. 
There was, however, the fear of their terminating in 
the Queen. Then they might have become mere 
courtly conceits, and by degrees have lost all their 
sincerity. To the poets of England, especially to 
Spenser, we owe it that the feeling towards Elizabeth 
was not allowed to be exhausted in compliments to 
her, or to any mortal princess. Whatever excellence 
was in her, was marred by a thousand frailties and 
weaknesses. It might be contemplated through her, 
and yet apart from her. There was an ideal excellence 
which she might help her people to contemplate, and 
which might remain for their contemplation after she 
had left them. The " Faery Queene " is such a queen 
as this. 

I spoke of superstitions which the English people 
had cherished about Elves and Fairies. It was a 
mythology which had come down to them from their 
Scandinavian ancestors; it never had deserted them. 
Thoughts of kindly or malicious beings, dwelling 
about them, in some invisible region not far from 
themselves, gave them a certain pleasure and a certain 


terror; mixed with their Christmas, and Candlemas, 
and Michaelmas feasts; were preserved in old songs 
and tales, which had been handed from father to son, 
and of which no one could say when they had begun. 
Then these had become combined with tales of 
knightly adventures, of the Champions of Christen- 
dom, who had wonderful and mysterious aids in their 
battles with giants and magicians ; especially they 
had been associated with the great Prince Arthur, who 
was half regarded as a great Christian hero, though 
the stories about him had a strange savour of pagan- 
ism, and half as a great English hero, though all the 
battles reported of him were battles against those 
Anglo-Saxons who celebrated his achievements. All 
these different stories were only half believed at any 
time. Still they connected themselves with what 
ought not to be a half belief, with what should be the 
strongest of all convictions, the belief that there is an 
invisible world surrounding us the conviction that 
there is a real and intimate relation between that 
world and ourselves. Might it not be possible to 
preserve that conviction, to connect it with all the 
most practical and earnest thoughts of the English 
gentleman and the English peasant in the days of 
Elizabeth, and so to save what was really precious 
and venerable in the old superstitions, now that they 
were doomed, and must evidently fall off and die ? 

One would have thought this a very noble aim. 
But the more one tried to conceive how it could be 
accomplished, the more, I think, one would feel at a 


loss. How the "Faery Queene" and the English 
Queen should be brought to understand each other, 
how Arthur and the Knights and the Fairies should 
ever speak to us again, and establish a relation with 
our battles with our daily foes, this I, at least, could 
never have conjectured. Nor would the case have 
been made clearer to me by an account which Spenser 
gives of his own purpose in a letter to Sir Walter 
Ealeigh. He tells him that under twelve knights, 
who all served the great Gloriana, Queen of Fairyland, 
he intended to typify the twelve moral virtues. Now, 
I must frankly own I have a dread of these twelve 
moral virtues. I do not mean that I dislike them in 
the abstract ; but I mean to say that they are likely 
to become mere abstract personages, and that then I 
do not feel that I can the least care for them, but feel 
a certain horror of them, as of beings who pretend 
to be something very great and turn out to be merely 
nothings. I must confess that, if I had read Spenser's 
letter without reading his poem, I should have ex- 
pected him to reduce flesh and blood, men and women, 
into mere qualities such as mere Temperance, Holi- 
ness, Justice, which look fine in a book, because they 
have capital letters prefixed to them ; but vanish into 
thin air as soon as one approaches them. 

Having read his poem, I have come to exactly the 
opposite conclusion; I have found, that just what I 
and other persons are apt to turn into mere abstrac- 
tions, what we can talk about as if they meant 
nothing, become, with him, great living and tremen- 


dous realities. Holiness is not a word with a big 
letter; it is brought before me in the person of a 
living man, who is going out to fight an old Dragon, 
and to break down a castle in which he holds his 
captives in prison. I find this Knight of Holiness 
betrothed to a fair damsel, Una, who goes forth with 
him, to guide him on his way to the enemies whom 
he has to encounter. This lady I am told is Truth, 
and I believe it ; but then she is described to me in 
these words : 

" A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside, 
Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow, 
Yet she much whiter ; but the same did hide 
Under a vele, that wimpled was full low ; 
And over all a blacke stole shee did throw : 
As one that inly mournd, so was she sad, 
And heavie sate upon her palfrey slow ; 
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had, 
And by her, in a line, a inilkewhite lambe she lad. 

So pure and innocent, as that same lambe, 
She was iu life and every vertuous lore ; 
And by descent from Royall lynage came 
Of ancient Kinges and Queenes, that had of yore 
Their scepters stretcht from East to Westerne shore, 
And all the world in their subjection held ; 
Till that inf email feend with foule uprore 
Forwasted all their land, and them expeld ; 
Whom to avenge she had this Knight from far compeld." 

This description, I believe, takes away all notion 
from our mind that Truth is something cold, and 
hard ; and dead ; I am apt enough to have that con- 
ception of her, to think that when we talk of pursuing 
Truth we mean pursuing something that is formal, 


and artificial, and verbal ; something that it is impos- 
sible to love, and therefore impossible to give up 
everything for. Whereas the poet is determined that 
I should confess it to be living, and beautiful, and 
worthy of the highest fidelity and obedience that we 
can render it. 

But the Red Cross Knight, who is wedded to this 
Una, this Truth, very soon has to come in contact with 
Error. And what is Error ? Now, at least, we shall 
have some cunning, logical definition. The poet will 
not try to make us think of this as living anywhere 
but in books and propositions. You shall hear : 

" But, full of fire and greedy hardiment, 
The youthf ull Knight could not for ought be staide ; 
But forth unto the darksom hole he went, 
And looked in : his glistring armor made 
A little glooming light, much like a shade ; 
By which he saw the ugly monster plaine, 
Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide, 
But th' other halfe did womans shape retaine, 

Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine. 

And, as she lay upon the durtie ground, 
Her huge long taile her den all overspred, 
Yet was in knots and many boughtes upwound. 
Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred 
A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed, 
Sucking upon her poisnous dugs ; each one 
Of sundrie shapes, yet all ill-favored : 
Soone as that uncouth light upon them shone, 
Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone. 

Their dam upstart out of her den effraide, 
And rushed forth, hurling her hideous taile 
About her cursed head ; whose folds displaid 
Were stretcht now forth at length without entraile. 


She lookt about, and seeing one in mayle, 
Armed to point, sought backe to tnrne againe ; 
For light she hated as the deadly bale, 
Ay wont in desert darknes to remaine, 
Where plaine none might her see, nor she see any plaiiie." 

The Red Cross Knight, or the Knight of Holiness, 
we may suppose, is to be a specially model man, one 
who is to be held up as an example of unfailing, un- 
deviating rectitude in all circumstances. Spenser has 
no such conception of him. He has a right purpose, 
a high and glorious aim ; but because he has that, he is 
liable to all temptations, to exactly those you would 
suppose him most free from. He who is bound to 
Truth by the firmest bonds must, of course, be a hater 
of Hypocrisy. You know, we all hate hypocrisy in 
other people. Spenser is rude enough to tell the 
holiest man among us that he is liable to be assaulted 
by Hypocrisy, to be deceived and conquered by him. 
For Hypocrisy, like Error, is with our poet no shadow. 
You have him brought before you here as a very 
distinct person : 

" At length they chaunut to meet upon the way 
An aged Sire, in long blacke weedes yclad, 
His feete all bare, his beard all hoarie gray, 
And by his belt his booke he hanging had : 
Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad, 
And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent, 
Simple in shew, and voide of malice bad ; 
And all the way he prayed as he went, 
And often knockt his brest, as one that did repent." 

Then we are told in the next canto, how 


" This guilefull great Enchaunter parts 
The Bedcrosse Knight from Truth : 
Into whose stead faire Falshood steps, 
And works him woefull ruth." 

There is no attempt to disguise the degradation. 
Duessa, who is called Fidessa, takes the place of Una 
in his heart. To lier he surrenders himself almost 

Do you ask what this means ? You will get many 
answers. One will tell you how it describes a man 
deluded by Falsehood and Superstition ; another that 
it describes the slavery of the Christian Church to 
the same enemies. I believe that it could not mean 
one of these things without meaning both, and there- 
fore there is no occasion to decide between opposing 
commentators. And this is what I would say to you 
about the complaint which I told you many people 
make of Spenser, that it requires great ingenuity to 
get at his meaning, and that when you think you 
have got it, you cannot be sure that he did not intend 
something quite different. I would beseech all his 
readers not to waste any ingenuity in deciphering his 
hieroglyphics. The simplest man who is engaged in 
the battle of life will know most of what he means. 
None who are not engaged in it will know anything 
of what he means, let them be as clever as they may. 
It is true of his poem, as it is of every good poem, that 
more is meant in it than meets the ear, more than the 
poet knew himself, more than any of us can know; 
and therefore we need not quarrel with one another 


about the signification of it. The experience of every 
man is different in some respects from the experience 
of every other, and yet in essentials they are alike ; 
and therefore each man may see something, in a great 
poem concerning human experience, which another 
does not see, and each man's discovery may throw light 
upon that of every other, instead of contradicting it. 

But to continue : Una, that is, Truth, does not lose 
her power or forego her mission because her Knight 
has deserted her : 

11 One day, nigh wearie of the yrkesome way, 
From her unhastie beast she did alight ; 
And on the grasse her dainty limbs did lay 
In secrete shadow, far from all mens sight : 
From her fayre head her fillet she undight, 
And layd her stole aside. Her angels face, 
As the great eye of heaven, shyned bright, 
And made a sunshine in the shady place ; 
Did never inortall eye behold such heavenly grace. 

It fortuned, out of the thickest wood 
A ramping Lyon rushed suddeinly, 
Hunting full greedy after salvage blood. 
Soone as the royall virgin he did spy, 
With gaping rnouth at her ran greedily, 
To have attonce -devourd her tender corse ; 
But to the pray when as he drew more ny, 
His bloody rage aswaged with remorse, 
And, with the sight amazd, forgat his furious forse. 

In stead thereof he kist her wearie feet, 
And lickt her lilly hands with fawning tong, 
As he her wronged innocence did weet. 
O, how can beautie maister the most strong, 
And simple truth subdue avenging wrong ! 


Whose yielded pryde and proud submission, 
Still dreading death, when she had marked long, 
Her hart gan melt in great compassion ; 
And drizling teares did shed for pure affection." 

I need not draw the moral of this story (Spenser has 
drawn it), that Truth is the mightiest thing in the 
world, that all brute force is created to bow to it, and 
will bow to it at last. This is the great and ever- 
lasting lesson, of which there may be ten thousand 
different and ever-renewing applications, but which 
will remain, though heaven and earth pass away. 
Spenser himself gives us one of these applications in 
the sixth canto of this lay of the Red Cross Knight, 
where he brings Una before us sitting and giving laws 
to a savage tribe, who kneel before her and do her 
homage. It was a fine, and glorious, and practical 
lesson which the poet was reading to his countrymen 
in that colonizing age, when they were going forth to 
subdue new races that had probably been once civilized 
and had sunk into barbarism when the Spaniard, who 
had gone among those races, had found no means of 
subduing them but the claws of the lion and the arts 
of Archimago to tell them that simple Truth in her 
weakness was stronger than these, and could work 
results which they could never work. It was a lesson 
to England in that day, and in all days to come, which 
it would be well that she should lay to heart. 

I have shown you, I think, that no qualities long 
remain mere names or fictions in Spenser's hands. 
If you will read at your leisure the fourth canto of 


this lay, which describes Duessa's House of Pride, I 
think you will find that each of her six sage coun- 
sellors, Idleness, Gluttony, Envy, and the rest, has a 
most terrible distinctness, a reality which we do not 
forget when we meet him, as we are sure to meet him, 
in ourselves and in others. Take the first : 

" But this was drawne of six unequall beasts, 
On which her six sage Counsellours did ryde, 
Taught to obay their bestiall beheasts, 
With like conditions to their kindes applyde : 
Of which the first, that all the rest did guyde, 
Was sluggish Idlenesse, the nourse of sin ; 
Upon a slouthfull Asse he chose to ryde, 
Arayd in habit blacke, and amis thin, 

Like to an holy Monck, the service to begin. 

And in his hand his Portesse still he bare, 
That much was worne, but therein little redd ; 
For of devotion he had little care, 
Still drownd in sleepe, and most of his daies dedd : 
Scarse could he once uphold his heavie hedd, 
To looken whether it were night or day. 
May seenie the wayue was very evill ledd, 
When such an one had guiding of the way, 
That knew not whether right he went, or else astray. 

From worldly cares himselfe he did esloyne, 
And greatly shunned manly exercise ; 
From everie worke he chalenged essoyne, 
For contemplation sake : yet otherwise 
His life he led in lawlesse riotise, 
By which he grew to grievous malady ; 
For in his lustlesse limbs, through evill guise, 
A shaking fever raignd continually. 
Such one was Idleiiesse, first of this company ." 


All my extracts have been taken from the first of 
Spenser's books, partly because I believe it is the most 
popular, partly because the poet's purpose becomes 
most intelligible when we follow the progress of any 
one of his stories. There is, however, a connection 
between all these stories ; there is a person who appears 
in each of them, and who is the centre round which all 
the poet's conceptions appear to move. This is Prince 
Arthur. His first appearance to Una, when sorrowing 
for her lost knight, is described thus : 

u At last she chaunced by good hap to meet 
A goodly knight, faire marching by the way, 
Together with his Squyre, arayed meet : 
His glitterand armour shined far away, 
Like glauncing light of Phoebus brightest ray ; 
From top to toe no place appeared bare, 
That deadly dint of steele endanger may. 
Athwart his brest a bauldrick brave he ware, 
That shind, like twinkling stars, with stones most pretious rare : 

And in the midst thereof one pretious stone 
Of wondrous worth, and eke of wondrous mights, 
Shapt like a Ladies head, exceeding shone, 
Like Hesperus emongst the lesser lights, 
And strove for to amaze the weaker sights : 
Thereby his mortall blade full comely hong 
In y vory sheath, ycarv'd with curious slights, 
Whose hilts were burnisht gold, and handle strong 
Of mother perle ; and buckled with a golden toiig. 

His haughtie Helmet, horrid all with gold, 
Both glorious brightnesse and great terrour bredd : 
For all the crest a Dragon did enfold 
With greedie pawes, aiid over all did spredd 


His golden winges : his dreadfnll hideous hedd, 
Close couched on the bever, seerad to throw 
From flaming mouth bright sparckles fiery redd, 
That suddeine horrour to faint hartes did show ; 
And scaly tayle was stretcht adowne his back full low. 

Upon the top of all his loftie crest, 
A bounch of heares discolourd diversly 
With sprincled pearle and gold full richly drest, 
Did shake, and seemd to daunce for jollity, 
Like to an almond tree ymounted hye 
On top of greene Selinis all alone, 
With blossoms brave bedecked daintily ; 
Whose tender locks do tremble every one 
At everie little breath that under heaven is blowne. 

His warlike shield all closely cover'd was, 
Ne might of mortall eye be ever seene ; 
Not made of steele, nor of enduring bras, 
Such earthly mettals soon consumed beene, 
But all of Diamond perfect pure and cleene 
It framed was, one massy entire mould, 
He wen out of Adamant rocke with engines keene, 
That point of speare it never percen could, 
Ne dint of direfull sword divide the substance would. 

The same to wight he never wont disclose, 
But whenas monsters huge he would dismay, 
Or daunt unequall armies of his foes, 
Or when the flying heavens he would affray ; 
For so exceeding shone his glistring ray, 
That Phoebus golden face it did attaint, 
As when a cloud his beames doth over-lay ; 
And silver Cynthia wexed pale and faynt, 
As when her face is staynd with magicke arts constraint. 

No magicke arts hereof had any might, 
Nor bloody wordes of bold Enchaunters call ; 
But all that was not such as seemed in sight 
Before that shield did fade, and suddeine fall ; 


And when him list the raskall routes appall, 
Men into stones therewith he could transmew, 
And stones to dust, and dust to nought at all ; 
And, when him list the prouder lookes subdew, 
He would them gazing blind, or turne to other hew. 

Ne let it seem that credence this exceedes ; 
For he that made the same was knowne right well 
To have done much more admirable deedes. 
It Merlin was, which whylome did excell 
All living wightes in might of magicke spell : 
Both shield and sword, and armour all he wrought 
For this young Prince, when first to armes he fell ; 
But, when he dyde, the Faery Queene it brought 
To Faerie lond, where yet it may be seeue, if sought. " 

I have given you this long extract because Prince 
Arthur is at once one of the most important person- 
ages in the "Faery Queene," and the one whose place in 
it the reader finds it hardest to understand. I shall 
not try to explain what his office is, because I believe 
the poet will give a much clearer explanation of the 
whole subject than I can. I will merely give you a 
hint or two, which perhaps may somewhat assist your 
own thoughts. 

Prince Arthur is, as I have said, in the stories of the 
Middle Ages, at once the leading Champion of Christen- 
dom and the British Prince the champion of our soil. 
All the tales of him, surrounded by the twelve Knights 
of "his Round Table, make us think of the land of our 
fathers as a sacred land, over which heavenly eyes 
are watching, for which heavenly powers are fighting. 
All the stories at the same time of his education by 


Merlin, of his enchanted sword, of his death, of his 
appearance again some other day, carry us beyond any- 
thing that is merely local ; he seems to belong alto- 
gether to another and more sublime region, without 
losing for a moment his relationship to this. 

I apprehend that it was the desire of the author of 
the " Faery Queene " to make this bright vision, with 
the various seemingly contradictory elements of which 
it is composed, a substantial one for his contemporaries, 
and for all Britons who should come after them. I 
think he wanted us to feel not less, but more attach- 
ment, to the land of our nativity, and to the homes 
and tombs of our fathers, than we have been wont to 
feel. I think that he had no fear of confounding the 
Queen Gloriana with the Queen Elizabeth, that he 
chose to leave something of that confusion, because he 
thought there could be nothing true, nothing heavenly, 
in the aspirations or the purposes of his fellow-men, if 
they lost their interest in their own country under 
pretence of any wider sympathies with the world, or 
any solitary devotion to God. If they did not under- 
stand that their battle was here, and that their victory 
was to be here if they did not feel that they were 
struggling for their country when they were struggling 
for themselves, he believed they would become very 
worthless and contemptible creatures. But, on the 
other hand, he wished every man to know that a whole 
host of invisible enemies are about him at every in- 
stant that Idleness, Gluttony, Envy, Hypocrisy, and 
Falsehood, the ruler of them all, are the most actual 


and tremendous foes with which every man is contend- 
ing, but one of which assails this man more, another 
that; he wished us to feel that the battle is an in- 
dividual one and yet a common one, that every knight 
who is doing his work must needs be aiding every 
other knight ; that no one can be doing his work unless 
he is setting before himself some high ideal, some noble 
standard, after which, amidst all discomfitures, he is to 
strive and that there must be some ideal in which 
all these are united together, some perfect Knight and 
Deliverer, belonging to earth and heaven, in Whom 
they are expressed. 

I have spoken to you very little of the exquisite 
pictures in this poem, and of the music of its verse, 
because it seems to me these come home to our hearts 
much more as we read the poem, or hear it read, than 
through any criticism. I wished rather to remove an 
impression, which I think hinders our pleasure and 
profit in reading any poem, that the writer has devised 
some artificial machinery for the sake of giving effect 
and interest to his thoughts. I am sure nothing delights 
us at last but what we feel to have truth at the found- 
ation of it, no poetical inventions but what we feel are 
used as the most transparent medium that can be 
found, for, enabling us to discern truths which would 
otherwise be hidden from us. Spenser, it seems to me, 
invented nothing ; he took that which he found lying 
idle, and useless, and unintelligible. He showed us 
what sense, and beauty, and harmony there lay be- 
neath it, what help we may get from Fairyland, if we 


understand that Fairyland is about the noble, and the 
shopkeeper, and the peasant ; that even in the midst 
of the city where he was born a poor man, and died 
perhaps for lack of bread, there is a way by which our 
spirits may ascend into it, may see its bright skies, and 
taste its fresh fountains ; that everyone who seeks his 
help and armour there, may become as gentle a knight 
as he was who wore the Red Cross shield, may be able 
to vanquish as many giants and enchanters as any who 
went forth from the palace of Gloriana. 




You will find among Mr. Wordsworth's Sonnets this 
very memorable one ; it was written in London in 
1802 : 

" Milton ! thou shouldst be living at this hour : 
England hath need of thee : she is a fen 
Of stagnant waters : altar, sword, and pen, 
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, 

Have forfeited their ancient English dower 
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men : 
Oh ! raise us up, return to us again ; 
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power. 

Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart : 

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea : 
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free. 

So didst thou travel on life's common way 
In cheerful godliness ; and yet thy heart 
The lowliest duties on herself did lay." 

I open my lecture with these words, partly because 
no one had so good a right to speak of a poet as a 
poet, still more because the poet speaks so much more 
of what Milton was than of what he wrote. It is the 

1 Delivered at the Birmingham and Midland Institute. 

IX.] MILTON. 243 

man who he thinks could reprove England for its 
selfishness ; it is the man whom he somewhat extrav- 
agantly asks, what Milton certainly would not have 
asked of any mortal, to restore to his country freedom, 
virtue, power. It is the man whose soul he represents 
as dwelling like a star above the earth, and yet taking 
upon itself the most earthly duties. Neither when he 
wrote this Sonnet, nor during all the years in which 
he published it afresh for his countrymen, would Mr. 
Wordsworth have made himself responsible for Milton's 
opinions, political or ecclesiastical. Some of his poems 
show how strongly in his latter years he dissented 
from them ; but the character of the man remained for 
Wordsworth a steadfast and permanent object amidst 
all the fluctuations of opinion through which he, or his 
observer, or the ages might have passed. A student 
of language and of verse had a temptation to think of 
the voice whose sound was like the sea more than of 
the purity, majesty, and freedom of the person who 
uttered the voice; but Wordsworth felt that, if the 
one does not correspond to the other, it is a hollow 
and false voice, which we should not admire, and 
cannot listen to for any long time. 

I shall not inquire what there was in the London of 
sixty years ago which suggested to Mr. Wordsworth 
such painful reflections about the selfishness and de- 
gradation of his country. These thoughts may come 
to good and earnest men at all times ; there is always 
enough to justify them ; there is always much to 
qualify them, and to prove that the ancient English 

244 MILTON. [IX. 

dower has not been forfeited ; but there was in 
London, in whatever street of it he might be walk- 
ing, much which would recall to anyone acquainted 
with Milton's life the incidents of it, and those special 
proofs of its grandeur as well as of its lowliness which 
presented themselves to his brother-poet in painful 
contrast with the world around him. Suppose he 
was jostled by the crowd in Cheapside ; in one of the 
streets which run out of it there had dwelt two 
hundred years before a scrivener named Milton, whose 
shop was denoted by a sign-post, who lost money and 
credit with his family by becoming a Protestant ; who 
was married to a woman not known beyond that 
neighbourhood, but famous for her deeds within it; 
who on the 9th December, 1608, had a son given to 
him. He will have remembered how this boy grew 
up with an unusual beauty of countenance, so that 
at nine years old all painters delighted to copy it. 
Passing into St. Paul's Church, Mr. Wordsworth will 
have looked reverently at the School founded by Dean 
Colet, where this boy spent more hours of the night 
than his eyes could bear in poring over the books 
which were dear to him then and in all his after- 
days. He may have pursued his walk down Fleet 
Street till he came to St. Bride's Churchyard. There 
he may have tried to identify the shop of Russell, a 
tailor, where the St. Paul's boy in the ripeness of 
his age, after he had visited Italy and received the 
homage of its great men, became himself a hard- 
working schoolmaster. The poet may have traced 

JX> ] MILTON. 245 

him to Scotland Yard, near Whitehall, where, in ad- 
vancing or fixed blindness, he wrote letters to the 
different Courts of Europe, as Cromwell's Latin Secre- 
tary ; then to a house opening into St. James's Park, 
which was assigned him as an official residence. 
Wordsworth will have known that no such pleasant 
neighbourhood was appointed for Milton's last days. 
Perhaps, however, he began his pilgrimage with a 
visit to the house near Bunhill Fields, where " Para- 
dise Lost " must have been chiefly written, and to 
Cripplegate Church, where its author is buried. He 
may have ended it in the Abbey, where a tardy 
homage had been paid to the Poet of the seventeenth 
century, and might be hereafter to the Poet of the 

You may complain that I should trouble you in 
Birmingham with my London topography ; but if one 
can associate its thoroughfares and by-places with re- 
collections that concern the glory of the whole land, it 
becomes yours as much as ours ; everyone who visits it 
may feel that he has as much to do with it as those 
who dwell in it. I do not question that the streets of 
your great town are also full of sacred memories, that 
they bring back to you the great men of other days, as 
they suggest to us the wonderful achievements of 
this day. There may always be an interchange and 
commerce in these treasures between different parts of 
the same country, as well as between countries which 
seas divide from each other. And certainly, as far as 
property in poets is concerned, those who dwell in 

246 MILTON. [IX. 

Warwickshire, and have Stratford-on-Avon near them, 
need not be jealous of any pretensions which we can 
put forward. 

It is not, however, for the sake of one town or 
another that I have led you to these different homes 
of Milton ; it is because I believe you cannot under- 
stand him, or his works, in any way so well as by 
connecting them with the stages of his life. The 
eminent writer of the Sonnet which I have quoted 
invented a very artificial division for his own works ; 
he called them poems of the Imagination, poems of the 
Fancy, poems of Sentiment, poems of Reflection. I 
have no doubt that he knew what he meant, and that 
something is to be learnt about the nature of Fancy, 
Imagination, and Reflection from his classification ; 
but I am sure his readers are often puzzled to know 
why one of their favourite poems might not as well 
have been described by one title as the other. And 
they would all, I think, much prefer to know in what 
place, at what time, under what impulses, amidst what 
society, the thoughts were breathed and the words 
came forth, than to have them ticketed and labelled 
for their use even by the writer himself. 

The verse and the prose of Milton, far more than 
those of most great men, are expressive of what he 
was doing, enjoying, or suffering at the time they 
were poured out. I do not mean that they were 
sudden extemporaneous utterances of some passing 
impulse. They are full of thought and deliberation; 
still they were born amidst great throes in the heart 

IX.] MILTON. 247 

of the writer as well as of his nation. We lose the 
sense and flavour if we read them without reference 
to their chronology. Considered as compositions, or 
subjects of criticism, I can say nothing about them 
which has not been said a hundred times before, and a 
hundred times better; but I may, perhaps, give you 
a hint or two about the way of making Milton his 
own expositor and commentator, so that the wisdom 
or folly of my comments, or of any other man's, may 
be of little importance to you. 

I should not make any allusion to certain poems 
which Milton wrote in Latin, mostly when he was 
quite a boy, if it were not that two of them tell us 
some facts which greatly affected his subsequent life 
as well as those early years. One, which is addressed 
to his father, was written, it would seem, to justify 
himself from some complaints about his over-devotion 
to poets and poetry. He reminds his parent that he 
himself was an artist; that music, the sister of poetry, 
had been always a cherished pursuit with him ; and he 
thanks him with earnest affection for having taught 
him from the first that money was not to be the object 
of his life, for having freely spent his own that his son 
might have the culture which would fit him to follow 
higher ends. The music of the elder Milton passed 
into the heart of the younger; he became the most 
musical of English writers. In his own words, he was 
possessed by 

" Thoughts that voluntary moved 
Harmonious numbers." 

248 HILTON. [IX. 

The unworldliness of his father became a still nobler 
and more precious inheritance ; one for which children 
may give thanks who have none of his genius, and 
without which his genius would have been dwarfed 
and debased. 

Another of these poems is written to Thomas Young, 
his earliest tutor, who had become a pastor among the 
English merchants at Hamburg. The letter is full of 
classical and mythological fancies, which would strike 
most of us as strange and out of place ; very likely 
they did not seem so to this worthy divine, though he 
was a strict Puritan, and though Milton probably 
owed to him, as much as to any man, the Hebrew 
training of his mind. Whatever learning he had of 
another kind, that was at the root of it. No dream of 
visible gods interfered with his awe of the Invisible. 
His poetry, his prose, his whole life, was the expres- 
sion of that awe. He had a deeper, a more thoroughly 
Jewish horror of idolatry than almost any Englishman 
who ever lived, though that sentiment has been char- 
acteristic of our countrymen above any people in the 
modern world. The immense interest which he felt 
in the study of heathen writers, his passionate love 
for them, strengthened instead of weakening this 
detestation. He seemed to feel that he could not pay 
them their proper honour, or enter into the truth 
which was in them, unless he read them by the Light 
of the Higher Truth which was a protest against their 

And so it was with another class of writings of 

IX.] MILTON. 249 

which he became greatly enamoured, at the very time 
when he was most busy with these books of the Old 
World. I use the word " enamoured," for it is the true 
one to explain his impression about books. They were 
to him like persons ; the print, and paper, and bind- 
ings were no dead barriers between him and the men 
and women who were described in them, or who spoke 
in them. All were alive ; he talked with them and 
knew them. Well, then, it might have appeared a 
dangerous thing for a young man to plunge into the 
romances of the Middle Ages, which recount many 
acts that are impure and evil, and attribute them to 
heroes whom they extol. 

There is a passage one of the most elevating and 
consolatory, I think, in the English tongue wherein 
he declares what effect these writings, as well as 
those which belonged more directly to his school 
and university course, produced upon him. I wish 
I could venture to read the whole of it to you ; 
those who do not know it would thank me, those 
who know it already would, I believe, thank me 
more ; but I must content myself with these few 
sentences : 

" Next, that I may tell ye whither my younger feet 
wander'd ; I betook me among those lofty Fables and 
Romances, which recount in solenine cantos the deeds 
of knighthood founded by our victorious kings; and 
from hence had in renowne over all Christendome. 
There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he 
should defend to the expense of his best blood, or of 

250 MILTON. [IX. 

his life, if it so befell him, the honour of virgin or 
matron. From whence even then I learnt what a 
noble vertue that sure must be, to the defence of 
which so many worthies by such a deare adventure of 
themselves had sworne. And if I found in the story 
afterward any of them by word or deed breaking that 
oath, I judg'd it the same fault of the Poet as that 
which is attributed to Homer, to have written undecent 
things of the gods. Only this my minde gave me that 
every free and gentle spirit without that oath ought to be 
borne a Knight, nor needed to expect the guilt spurre, 
or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder, to stirre 
him up both by his counsell, and his arme, to secure 
and protect the weaknesse of any woman. So that 
even those books which to many others have bin the 
fuell of wantonnesse, and loose living, I cannot thinke 
how unlesse by divine indulgence, prov'd to me so 
many incitements as you have heard, to the love and 
stedfast observation of vertue." 

The defence of which this is a specimen was wrung 
from Milton by some hard words which were spoken 
of him after he became a controversial writer. I quote 
them that you may see what this young Puritan was, 
and how much more chivalrous young men would be 
if they studied under him. 

In the work from which I have quoted, Milton refers 
to his life at the University, in answer to calumnies 
which were propagated in his own time, and have been 
renewed since ; he " acknowledges publickly, with all 
gratefull minde, that more than ordinary favour and 

IX.] MILTON. 251 

respect which I found above any of my equals at the 
hands of those curteous and learned men, the Fellowes 
of that Colledge wherein I spent some yeares ; who 
at my parting, after I had taken two degrees, as the 
manner is, signified many wayes, how much better it 
would content them that I would stay ; as by many 
letters full of kindnesse and loving respect, both 
before that time, and long after, I was assur'd of their 
singular good affection towards me." Such a testimony 
ought to serve for their acquittal from any charges of 
unkind treatment which were at first meant to dis- 
parage the supposed sufferer, but which would now be 
looked upon as the cruelest imputations upon those 
who inflicted it. 

But the really important documents concerning his 
life in college are the poems which he composed there. 
The most memorable of these, the " Hymn on the 
Nativity," is familiar to many of you ; it is too long 
for quotation ; extracts from it would be of little profit. 
I shall only notice it as an illustration of that great 
characteristic of Milton to which I alluded before, his 
habit of making all the stories of Heathen Mythology 
unfold and illustrate the truth ; which we are apt to 
use only for the exposure and confutation of their 
absurdity. In taking this course he followed the 
example of his admirable and learned predecessor, 
Edmund Spenser. And I think these two illustrious 
poets have done more both to counteract the mischief 
of paganism and to vindicate the use of the treasures 
which it has bequeathed to us, than all the Apologists. 

252 MILTON. [IX. 

There is one of his University exercises, written when 
he was nineteen, which I like to remember. It was 
written partly in English and partly in Latin, and the 
English part of it is a witness that all he learnt of 
other nations was only to serve for the better study 
and enriching of his own. It begins : 

" Hail, native language, that by sinews weak 
Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak, 
And mad'st imperfect words with childish tripps, 
Half unpronounc't, slide through my infant lipps, 
Driving dum silence from the portal-dore, 
Where he had mutely sat two years before : 
Here I salute thee and thy pardon ask, 
That now I use thee in my latter task. 

I have some naked thoughts that rove about 
And loudly knock to have their passage out ; 
And wearie of their place do only stay 
Till thou hast deck't them in thy best array." 

And then, with great pomp of words, and a kind of 
quaint humour, he associates classical stories about 
Apollo and the Nymphs with the hard forms of Logic. 
It is only a boyish effort, with much of boyish redun- 
dancy in style and thought; but I know few more 
striking proofs that " the boy is father to the man/' 

Four years later he wrote a Sonnet which was a 
surer witness of what he was then, and of what he 
would be afterward : 

" How soon hath Time, the suttle theef of youth, 
StoPn on his wing my three and twentieth yeer ! 
My hasting dayes flie on with full career, 
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th. 

IX.] MILTON. 253 

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth 
That I to manhood am arriv'd so near, 
And inward ripenes doth much less appear, 
That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. 

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, 
It shall be still in strictest measure eev'n, 
To that same lot, however mean or high, 

Towards which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven ; 

All is, if I have grace to use it so, 

As ever in my great task Master's eye. ;; 

Whether Milton's spring was late or early, the sum- 
mer fruits began to come forth immediately after this 
twenty -third year. It was in 1632 that he went to 
Horton, near Colebrook in Buckinghamshire, a house 
which his father had taken to reside in during his old 
age. There he passed five years. In those years he 
wrote "L' Allegro" and II Penseroso," "Comus," "The 
Arcades/ 5 and " Lycidas." I will not attempt to de- 
scribe the place or the neighbourhood ; those of you 
who consult the work of Professor Masson, the latest 
and most diligent and devoted of Milton's biographers, 
will find a clear and lively account of it as it was and 
as it is. It deserved the zeal of any of Milton's ad- 
mirers to investigate and describe that place, for it was 
specially inhabited by his genius. We often use that 
word carelessly ; we forget its connection with the 
adjective "genial;'' we forget that "genius" means the 
vital productive power of a man. Well; those years at 
Horton are undoubtedly the poet's most genial time, 
the one in which he produced with the greatest freedom 
and joy ; when all things about him most echoed the 

254 MILTON. [IX. 

music that was in him. The poem he calls " II Pen- 
seroso," in which he tries to bring before us all images 
that move to sadness and melancholy, is really just as 
great a proof of his inward gladness as the one in 
which he sings the praises of Mirth. He could not be 
content without finding a response in Nature to every 
mood of his mind ; and he does find it. The song of 
the Nightingale, which many wise men say is full of 
rapture and delight, could feed his melancholy because 
he wished to feed it ; because it was, in truth, just as 
pleasant a sensation to him as the one which is con- 
trasted with it, only suggesting something deeper and 
more permanent. So in the other poem he calls Shake- 
speare " Fancy's child," and says that he 

" Warbles his native wood-notes wild." 

We are much more apt to speak of Shakespeare as the 
child of Truth, as one who brings before us the realities 
of life ; no chance warbler of wood-notes, but the com- 
poser of very elaborate harmonies. But Milton's words 
are perfectly true for their own object. That is the 
light in which one who was in search of all entertain- 
ments for the fancy, would regard the plays of Shake- 
speare ; they would not be studies to him in his own 
life, or in the lives of his fellow-men. The songs and 
freaks of Puck, the dreams of Oberon and Titania, 
the dialogues of Rosalind and of Touchstone in the 
forest of Arden, would represent the mind of the poet 
to such an observer, and this without any reference to 
the general purport of the drama. I have wandered 

IX.] MILTON. 255 

more into criticism than I intended; but my wish 
is to make this passage of Milton's life intelligible 
to you, and to prepare you for a future one when 
he would become acquainted with a very different 
kind of sadness from that which is pictured in " II 

But even now, when he was most alive to the charms 
of all external objects, he was never deserted by that 
sense of a responsibility to the unseen Task-master 
which he had expressed in his Sonnet, and which was 
the secret of his life and his power. The witchery not of 
Nature only, but of all bright and lovely human forms 
and faces, was upon him. No courtier of Charles I. 
felt the attraction of the masques and entertainments 
in which the monarch and his wife delighted, more 
than the young Puritan. In the "Arcades," as in the 
masque of " Comus," he did full honour to the Countess 
of Derby and to the ladies of Ludlow Castle. But the 
object of that masque was to exhibit in richer and 
more glorious verse than had ever been consecrated to 
courtly tastes and courtly indulgences, the battle of 
virtue with its tempters, and the Divine help which is 
sustaining it against them. The time was approaching 
when Milton would try, as he said himself, with his 
left hand to fight against what he held to be the corrup- 
tions of England in its high places. I believe he was 
fighting against them with his right hand when he 
showed how all the amusements which had been most 
abused, all appeals to the eye and the ear, all classical 
and Middle-age fables, might be consecrated to the 

256 MILTON. [IX. 

service of Righteousness and Truth. I must not allude 
to the other memorable poem of this time, " Lycidas," 
further than to say, that its great interest as a key to 
Milton's biography lies in that which perhaps weakens 
its effect as a pastoral or elegiac poem. He intimates 
very clearly that his thoughts are elsewhere than in the 
days which he had passed at Cambridge, or in the sea 

" Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high ; " 

that he was busy with anticipations of a great change 
which was to come upon England : he held that 

" That two-handed engine at the door 
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more." 

Before he took any further interest in that two- 
handed engine, he paid the visit to Italy of which I 
spoke. The complimentary verses which he received, 
or which he wrote, in the old or the modern language of 
Italy whilst he was there, are nothing to us. But that 
he should have seen all the sights which Italy offered 
to him, should have felt their fascination in every pore, 
should have received the incense of the most unex- 
pected and most agreeable flatterers, and should have 
escaped out of the furnace unhurt, with fresh know- 
ledge and fresh perception of beauty in Art and Nature, 
but more an Englishman, more a man, more a believer 
in the Unseen and Eternal than before this signifies 
to us much ; this no one who is speaking of him ought 
to pass over. Nor should we ever forget that it was 
exactly when the impressions of Italy were freshest and 

IX.] MILTON. 257 

most strong upon him, that he returned to England, 
to take part in its political strifes, and to earn his 
bread by teaching boys. I put the two facts together, 
because together the} 7 explain the paradox in Mr. 
Wordsworth's lines, that his 

" Soul was as a star and dwelt apart/' 

whilst he was plunging into the fiercest debates of his 
time. He. certainly did not dwell apart from any con- 
troversy that was raging; he certainly preserved no 
tone of philosophical or literary indifference. He was 
not more tolerant of the opinions which he opposed 
than his contemporaries ; he drew no nice distinctions, 
such as pur consciences bid us draw,between the opinions 
and the men who supported them. He is fierce and 
merciless to all whom he deemed, rightly or wrongly, 
the enemies of his country's freedom and of justice. But 
his soul did dwell apart in this sense. When he is most 
vehement, when you dissent most from his judgments 
of events or of men, you cannot help feeling that it is 
justice, freedom, his country, he is caring for; that these 
ends are present in his mind, are dearer to him than 
all others, whether he sees the way to them or not. He 
dwells apart from the factions of his age when he is in 
the midst of its factions. The party he is fighting for, is 
dear to him only for the sake of the purpose to which 
he supposes that it is pledged. If in his judgment it 
forsakes that purpose, he will forsake it, let the persons 
who compose it be as much his friends as they may, let 
their wrath against him be as great as it may. And 

258 MILTON. [IX. 

he secured his soul from many perils by that course 
which Mr. Wordsworth calls " laying on himself lowly 
duties." He might have been tempted for the sake of 
his family, for the enjoyment of the literary ease which 
he prized so highly, to have let out his pen to the ser- 
vice of some party, or some man. The schoolmaster 
in St. Bride's Court and in Aldersgate Street was able 
to be independent of politics, and therefore to be an 
honest politician. 

If I do not give you extracts from any of his specially 
controversial writings I have already given you one 
it is not that I wish to pass them over because the con- 
clusions in them are often directly opposed to mine, for 
I think that I have learnt most from those that are so ; 
but because so much collateral information, which I 
have not the time, if I had the power, to give, is neces- 
sary to the illustration of them. But I must refer to 
two of his prose writings, because they illustrate some 
of the features in his character to which I have drawn 
your attention. The first is a speech which many of 
you will have read and re-read it is that for the Liberty 
of Unlicensed Printing. I must not take passages from 
it, though the temptation to do so is great ; but I would 
have you remark that this magnificent discourse was 
addressed to that very Long Parliament on behalf of 
which he had struggled so passionately ; which he had 
welcomed as the deliverer of the land. This Parliament, 
in the exercise of what it supposed was a devout care 
of the faith and morals of the community, and that it 
might hinder the publication of some of those writings 

IX.] MILTON. 259 

which Milton most disliked, undertook to establish 
licensers of the press. He had to encounter his own 
friends; it was their prejudices that he exposed and 
refuted. The soul which was " as a star which dwelt 
apart " from a low earthly expediency, never shone more 
clearly and brightly than when he stood forth to pro- 
claim that we should not "affect a rigour contrary to the 
manner of God and of Nature, by abridging or scanting 
those means, which books freely permitted are, both to 
the trial of virtue and to the exercise of truth." For 
he adds, "Were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing 
should be preferred before many times as much the 
forcible hindrance of evil-doing." 

The second book to which I alluded was Milton's 
Letter to Mr. Hartlib, on Education. I am not going 
to tell you what the scheme of instruction was 
which he desired for his pupils, or to inquire whether 
it was a reasonable or unreasonable one. There may 
be all possible differences about that question; there 
can be none about the fervent practical zeal with 
which he devoted himself to the consideration of the 
subject. He did not " lay lowly duties upon himself" 
that people might call him humble, or only that he 
might obtain food for his family. He resolved to 
show that the work of teaching boys is " lowly," 
because everything good is lowly ; that being so, it is 
a grand task, worthy of the noblest intellect which the 
world has ever seen ; and that such an intellect ought 
to be exercised in showing how the theory of education 
could be reformed, how its practice could be made 


effectual. What was remarkable in the reform that he 
proposed, was this. It was not such as any one would 
have naturally expected a poet, and a man deeply 
conversant with ancient lore, to produce. He would 
make the study of words subsidiary to the study of 
things ; he would connect lessons in agriculture with 
lessons in grammar; but this he would do for the cul- 
tivation of his pupils' minds and characters, not that 
he might advance them in the world. He dreaded the 
mercenary tendencies of the education which he saw 
established in England ; to make it more mercenary 
was the last aim that he set before himself, or before 
any of his countrymen. 

The writings of Milton as Cromwell's secretary were 
chiefly in Latin. He certainly did not enter the ser- 
vice of the Protector without entertaining the most 
hearty sympathy for him and for his cause. He 
supposed him to be the champion of order and of free- 
dom ; the assertor of an actual Divine government 
over men. Having adopted that conviction, it was not 
in him to shrink from any vehemence in support of it ; 
to use any soft or mild phrases in denouncing those 
men, learned or unlearned, who pleaded on the side of 
his opponents. If you ask me whether he was not 
often coarse, savage, personally abusive, I should 
answer, Undoubtedly he was ; sometimes in his Eng- 
lish writings, much more when he was using a 
vocabulary which did not suggest to him domestic 
and human thoughts, which he could half regard as a 
rusty and worn-out weapon, even when he was strik- 

IX.] MILTON. 261 

ing the hardest blows with it. I do not justify this 
opinion ; but it seems to have been entertained by 
men who in their private intercourse must have exhi- 
bited much kindliness and urbanity. And those who 
have known anything of the temptations of contro- 
versy when that temptation has not been added to it, 
when they were using their own English tongue, in an 
age much more bland and delicate than the age of the 
Stuarts, will tremble before they cast stones at the 
images of their forefathers for the offences of this kind 
which they committed. It is better, instead of doing 
that, to take home the painful and humiliating lesson, 
that Milton's nobleness and piety are not able to make 
his cruel and unjust words tolerable, but only bring 
their ugliness into greater relief; to recollect, that 
if ours are less offensive, it is because there is less in 
them to make men feel this contrast ; to assure our- 
selves, that if we profess to care for our cause more 
than for ourselves, Milton, who certainly did that, 
weakened his cause, and brought discredit upon it, by 
every personality to which he resorted in defence of it. 
I am not, as you see here, Milton's panegyrist or 
apologist. I want to discover the course and purpose 
of his life ; in that, and not in my words, must be the 
apology or panegyric which he deserves. A man must 
be understood before we can praise him or blame him. 
When we do understand him, if he is a great man we 
shall feel his faults very keenly ; far more keenly than 
those of anyone whom we reverence less the light 
will show us the darkness. 

262 MILTON. [ IX . 

I make this remark partly in connection with a class 
of Milton's writings from which I vehemently dissent, 
those which concern Marriage and Divorce, His prac- 
tical conclusions upon these subjects appear to me all 
wrong ; partly adopted from the excess of that Hebrew 
temper which I said was so prominent in him, partly 
from what he saw and felt of the incongruity of many 
marriages which had been ratified by very holy 
sanction. But I cannot help confessing that my dis- 
like of these writings is due in great measure to Milton 
himself. I speak both of his poetry and of his life. 
His first wife scorned him as a Puritan, and left him. 
He received her back, and for her sake supported 
and protected her Royalist relations through the 
times of the Commonwealth. Of his second wife he 
wrote these lines, which certainly express his inmost 
heart : 

" Methought I saw my late espoused saint 
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave, 
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave, 
Rescu'd from death by force, though pale and faint. 

Mine, as whom washt from spot of child -bed taint, 
Purification in the Old Law did save, 
And such, as yet once more I trust to have 
Full sight of her in heaven without restraint, 

Came vested all in white, pure as her mind. 
Her face was veil'd, yet, to my fancied sight, 
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd 

So clear, as in no face with more delight. 
But, oh ! as to embrace me she inclined, 
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night." 

The last line signifies the period of Milton's story to 

IX .] MILTON. 263 

which we have come ; to that night of which he has 
spoken so often in what are sometimes called episodes 
from his great poem, but which I always regard as 
part of its very substance., 

Dr. Johnson said, and many have said after him, 
that the reading of "Paradise Lost" is a task which 
people perform once and are glad never to resume. I 
do not wonder that this should be so. To have a book 
put into one's hands which one is told is very sublime, 
or devout, or sacred, or one of the great epics of the 
world, is to have a demand made on one's admiration 
to which we submit at first dutifully, and against 
which in a little while we feel an almost inevitable 
rebellion. I do not think, for myself, that I ever could 
care for " Paradise Lost " while it came to ine under 
the seal of those grand titles ; the reality of it seemed 
to disappear; it was very fine, no doubt; one was 
bound to pay it a respectful homage, but it belonged 
to another sphere from ours; one longed for more 
earthly and homely things. It is quite otherwise, I 
believe, when we receive it as the deepest, most com- 
plete utterance of a human spirit ; when it comes forth 
as the final expression of the thoughts of a man who 
has been fighting a hard battle, who appears to have 
been worsted in the battle, who thinks that he has 
fallen on evil days and evil tongues ; whose eyes 

" roll in vain 
To find the piercing ray, and found no dawn ; " 

who was cut off from all the joys of nature at the very 

264 MILTON. [IX. 

time when he was deserted and persecuted by his 
fellow-men. Hear in " Paradise Lost " the song of 
such a man, gathering up all the memories and experi- 
ences of the years through which he has passed, of the 
men with whom he has conversed, and of the books 
that he has loved. Read it as the expression of an 
unchanged and imperishable faith in the Will of a 
Righteous Being, which disobedience cannot set at 
nought, against Whom all evil powers may strive but 
cannot prevail ; read it as the assurance that that Will 
is the source of all the beautiful things which he can 
look upon no longer, of all the music which is in him, 
and which sounds through creation read it thus, and 
you will need no critics to tell you about its sublimity, 
or to classify it with books to which it has probably 
very little resemblance. It will come to you with its 
own evidence and power, as the voice of a man, but a 
voice which can make the deepest mind of a grand age 
of English history intelligible to our age; a voice which 
can teach us how all ages are united in Him who is, 
and was, and is to come. That seems to me the way 
of reading " Paradise Lost ; " and therefore it is that I 
said that the passages which exhibit to us the poet's 
personal sorrows and consolations are no episodes in it, 
but give us the key to its inmost meaning. 

" Thou hast given us ' Paradise Lost,' has thou 
nothing to say of Paradise Found?" was the demand 
of Elwood, the Quaker, to whom the world is so deeply 
indebted for his care of the poet, for carrying him to 
the house of one of his friends in a genial climate, 

IX.] MILTON. 265 

some distance from the plague-stricken city in which 
he habitually dwelt; most of all for the answer which 
he obtained to his appropriate and well-timed question. 
It was the fashion of former times greatly to disparage 
"Paradise Regained." In the reaction against that 
fashion recent commentators have, I think, unduly 
exalted it. I can conceive nothing more instructive 
or suggestive than the idea of the poem; nothing 
which throws more light upon the life of the Puritan 
period. And it is exquisite for its completeness as a 
work of art, exquisite for the self-restraint of the 
artist. But I miss the personal allusions ; I think the 
absence of them has in part justified the disappointment 
which most readers feel in it. Milton appears to me 
greatest when he is on the ground of the Old Testa- 
ment, comparatively feeble when he ventures into the 
region of the New Testament. He has been called, 
and not wrongly, our Hebrew Poet. On both these 
grounds I think the latest of his poems, "Samson 
Agonistes," is worthy to be the latest. I read it as a 
climax and summary of all that had gone before. Lord 
Macaulay, I know, found fault with it, and of course 
gave exceedingly clever reasons tor setting it below 
everything else which Milton wrote. I will not discuss 
those reasons ; to one who looks at the question from a 
purely critical point of view, I have no doubt they are 
conclusive. But I have not assumed this point of 
view in any part of my lecture, and I cannot assume 
it now. Throughout I have striven to speak of " the 
man " Milton, and I know not where the man discovers 

266 MILTON. [ IX . 

himself more wonderfully than in Samson. He is 
himself the blind and captive Israelite. He seeks the 
sun and shade to hide himself from the daily task, the 
weary toil at the mill ; he is soothed by the sympathy 
of the brethren of his tribe, speaking to him in those 
old Greek measures which had been in his ears from 
childhood, and which he loved to blend with the 
sterner thoughts of the Hebrews ; he groans over the 
loss of his country's freedom and strength ; he hears 
the mockery of the Philistines; he feels the invincible 
strength coming back to him that he may quell the 
proud of the earth and the aggressor ; ... he medi- 
tates on the ways of God, so various, and he might 
say contrarious, which are yet moving on to a blessed 
issue, and dies that he may conquer. Over him the 
dirge is sung : 

" But he, though blind of sight, 
Despis'd and thought extinguisht quite, 
With inward eyes illuminated, 
His fierye vertue rouz'd 
From under ashes into sudden flame, 

Like that self-begotteii bird 

In the Arabian woods embost, 

That no second knows nor third, 

And lay erewhile a Holocaust, 

From out her ashie womb now teem'd, 

Bevives, re-flourishes, then vigorous most 

When most inactive deem'd, 

And though her body die, her fame survives, 

A secular bird, ages of lives." 

" Samson Agonistes " recalls me to the verses by 

IX.] MILTON. 267 

another poet with which I began. The play is one of 
human weakness, as much as of strength ; of weakness 
succeeding strength, that strength may be perfected in 
weakness. So far, therefore, as Mr. Wordsworth's 
lines are a mere glorification of Milton, Milton himself 
is the best witness against them. So far as they com- 
memorate a man who amidst disappointment arid 
sorrow was enabled to bear witness of a Wisdom and 
Truth higher than his own, which claimed him for 
their minister and to which he submitted himself, I 
hope you will deem that they are confirmed by the 
little glance which we have been able this evening to 
take of his history. But in this I venture to dissent 
from Mr. Wordsworth : I believe that it would not 
have been good for England that Milton should have 
appeared in the reign of George III., or that he should 
appear in the reign of Queen Victoria. I believe he 
appeared in the hour that was best for him and for 
us ; that he represented his own time ; that his work 
should be to awaken the hearts and energies of men 
who may represent ours. And I believe that, in the 
truest sense, he and all men that have served their 
generation and are fallen asleep, are living at this 
hour ; that they are with us as witnesses of our acts 
and our failures ; to reprove us if we are selfish men ; 
to encourage us to walk in cheerful godliness ; and to 
show us how our souls may " dwell apart " from the 
evils of our time, how we may lay upon ourselves 
whatever lowly duties it demands of us. 


I PROPOSE to speak this evening of Milton as an actual 
schoolmaster, as well as of his letter to Mr. Hartlib, in 
which he expounds his idea of education. The subjects 
are distinct, though no person who really appreciates 
Milton would wish to separate them. 

Edward Phillips, his nephew and pupil, tells us that 
" soon after his return from Italy he took him a lodg- 
ing in St. Bride's Churchyard, when he first undertook 
the education and instruction of his sister's two sons, 
the younger whereof had been wholly committed to 
his charge and care. . . . He made no long stay 
in these lodgings ; the necessity of having a place to 
dispose his books in and other goods fit for the fur- 
nishing of a good handsome house, hastening him to 
take one. And accordingly a pretty garden-house he 
took in Aldersgate Street, and therefore the fitter for 
his turn by the reason of the privacy, besides that 
there are few streets in London more free from noise 
than that." 

1 Delivered at the Royal Institution, January 1857. 


Dr. Johnson says, that all the biographers of Milton 
shrink from this passage in his life, or try to explain 
it away. The remark evidently does not apply to 
Phillips. He observes indeed that " Milton never set 
up for a public school to teach all the fry of the 
parish, but only was willing to impart his learning 
and knowledge to relations and the sons of gentlemen 
that were his intimate friends." But he does not even 
hint that he regarded this occupation as discreditable, 
or pretend that Milton undertook it gratuitously. 
Later writers whom Johnson had read may have taken 
up either of these opinions. If they did, no one could 
rebuke them with greater justice or better grace than 
himself. Probably they had formed some notion of a 
poet which made them anxious to associate him with 
mountains and streams, rather than with the streets 
of a city ; or they had thought that he ought not to 
engage in any work that was likely to be attended 
with more trouble than reputation, or to earn his 
bread by anything except the pen, or the patronage 
of great men. 

Johnson could refute every one of these notions 
from his own experience. Fleet Street was his proper 
home ; he had been a schoolmaster ; he knew how 
much labour and what little honour, sometimes how 
little bread, might come to those who were working 
with the pen. He had treated the patronage of great 
men with disdain. Moreover, he knew how few of 
the great poets of England had been nursed in these 
quiet retreats, or engaged in those celestial occupa- 


tions which these fantastical admirers had imagined 
for them. 

Geoffrey Chaucer was probably born in London. 
He was Comptroller of the Petty Customs in the port 
of London. He fell into disgrace with the Court by 
the part he took in the election of a Lord Mayor. We 
have reason to remember these facts ; for if we owe 
"the Testament of Love" and the "Legend of Fair 
Women " to the knowledge which he acquired in Courts, 
or while on foreign embassies, we should never, I 
conceive, have had the "Canterbury Tales/' but for 
the acquaintance with homely English life which he 
learned as a London citizen. Edmund Spenser, again, 
was born in East Smithfield ; and there is the sad I 
fear not disproved tradition, that he died for lack of 
bread in King Street, Westminster. 

Shakespeare's earliest years might be passed in one of 
the counties of England a county, by the way, singu- 
larly flat and dull from which he might gather some 
hints for the forest of Arden, but which gave him no 
glimpse of hills or of sea. But all his manhood was 
spent in London, where he was busy amidst stage- 
lamps and with stage accounts, and was learning in 
Blackfriars and Eastcheap to understand princes and 
carriers, Romans and English, better than they were 
ever understood. 

Milton's ties to London, to the vulgarest parts of its 
city, are still closer. His birthplace was Bread Street. 
The Spread Eagle, which was the sign that his father, 
the scrivener, dwelt there, was the sign also that that 


father belonged to a worthy family, and reminded the 
boy that he had cause to honour him for having lost 
his inheritance. There the worthy tradesman worked 
hard and successfully, that his children might have no 
worse an education than he had in his younger days at 
Christ Church ; there he imparted, to one of them at 
least, his passion for music, and his knowledge of it. 
There Milton may have learnt still more precious 
lessons from a mother known through all that neigh- 
bourhood for her charities. It was a step from that 
street to St. Paul's School, where he began, at ten 
years old, to purchase future blindness by intense 

There were no doubt three breaks in his London life. 
One was passed at Cambridge. It must have affected 
his after-thoughts in many ways none more than those 
which had reference to education. But assuredly the 
Cam never became in his mind a rival of the Thames. 
There are painful passages in an epistle to Charles 
Diodati about its reeds and its naked fields, in which 
there are no shades, and its unsuitableness for wor- 
shippers of the Muses, which one tries to forget and to 
balance against others, but which prove very decisively 
that a university which is exceedingly sacred to many of 
us, and which on the whole has paid him a very hearty 
reverence, was not dear to him, either during the years 
which he passed at it, or even in retrospection. 

It must have been quite otherwise with his father's 
house at Horton, in Buckinghamshire. The five genial 
years which produced " L' Allegro," " II Penseroso," 


" Comus," " The Arcades," " Lycidas," must have been 
full of all rich impressions from the sights and sounds 
of nature, such as were certainly not to be found or 
created in Bread Street. The wonderful assemblage of 
clear, bright, joyful images at the beginning of " L' Alle- 
gro " would be proof enough that knowledge was at no 
entrance there shut out from the poet, that light and 
life were streaming into him at every pore. And there, 
also, he made acquaintance not only with the lark 
and the sweetbriar and the eglantine; he not only 

" How the hounds and horn 
Cheerly rouse the sluinb'ring morn, 
From the side of some hoar hill, 
Through the high wood echoing shrill ; " 

but he became acquainted with Ludlow Castle, con- 
nected with the actual inhabitants of it his pure and 
beautiful visions of the lady who resisted the enchanter, 
of her brothers, and the attendant spirit. Still, even 
in this period, which is so especially devoted to the 
country and country pleasures, we hear, in his second 
defence, of his paying visits to London that he might 
buy books, and perfect himself in music and mathe- 
matics. And there are indications, I think, in all the 
poems of this time that he expected to find himself 
again in his old haunts amidst hard work, and that the 
" fresh woods and pastures new," of which he speaks 
in " Lycidas," might be far more tangled and far less 
green pastures than those which he had lately visited. 
His visit to Italy was indeed the immediate occasion 


of that line, and may have fulfilled it in its simplest 
sense. No one was ever so well prepared as he was for 
some of the sights which greeted him there; no one 
could have been so unprepared for the praises which he 
received from scholars, who, as he says, were not forward 
to bestow such on men of this side the Alps. It gives 
one a wonderful sense of the substantial and stable 
quality of his mind and character, that he could sustain 
the weight of outward beauty which crushes so many 
for whom it has not half the attraction that it had for 
him, and of flatteries coming from men whom he could 
appreciate, and which he knew were paid to the writings 
in which he had shown least of his genius. If he had 
been educated under a Puritan teacher, it does that 
teacher the highest honour ; it shows him worthy of all 
the affection Milton expressed for him, that he had not 
made his scholar insensible to one graceful or beautiful 
impression, but that he had given him the secret of not 
surrendering to impression his Northern and English 
character. But I believe his safety lay in the strength 
and in the depth of his sympathy. He cared for Italy 
too much not to feel its sufferings more keenly than its 
praises. The friendship of Manso reminded him how 
the poet whom he had loved and helped had 

". . . . in his youth begun ID gladness, 
But thereof " came " in the end despondency and madness." 

The lesson was too serious and awful not to be laid 
to heart by one who was himself in the prime of 
manly strength, and beauty, and enjoyment. And no 


doubt the sight of Galileo, grown old, a prisoner 
to the Inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise 
than the Dominican and Franciscan licensers thought 
(so he speaks in his " Areopagitica"), may have had a 
considerable effect in determining him not to stay 
on that enchanted ground, and even to abandon his 
long-formed intention of visiting Athens, rather than 
be away from the city of London at a moment when 
England was astir, and when he thought he might 
do somewhat to direct the thoughts and kindle the 
hopes of his countrymen. To London, at all events, 
he came again in the year 1639, just when the King 
was making his second attempt to subdue the Scots. 
And it was then he went to Russell, the tailor, in 
St. Bride's Churchyard, and took lodgings for his 

" Let not," says Johnson, " our veneration for Milton 
forbid us to look with some degree of merriment on 
great promises and small performance, on the man who 
hastens home because his countrymen are contending 
for their liberty, and, when he reaches the scene of 
action, vapours away his patriotism in a private 
boarding-school." Johnson does not explain exactly 
what degree of merriment his veneration for Milton 
permitted him ; I should be happy to take part in it 
if I could see the point of the jest. He must have 
perceived, I should think, that the edge of it was taken 
off by his own great and manly observation in answer 
to the Biographers, who represented Milton as a 
gratuitous teacher. If he was, as he undoubtedly was, 


a somewhat poor man, with tastes which might make 
money very desirable, and cultivated society very 
agreeable to him, I think the course he took was a 
singularly prudent and honourable one. He had 
determined perhaps on quite insufficient grounds 
but he had determined, that the cause of the Court was 
not the cause which an Englishman ought to espouse. 
That Court was one unusually fond of literature, 
unusually judicious in its patronage, certain at this 
time to be looking out for advocates who could defend 
its measures. The rumour that a young Englishman, 
who had earned panegyrics and prizes in different 
academies of Italy, had just returned to his own land, 
was likely enough to reach the ears of those who 
would convey it to the Archbishop or to the Queen. 
There was nothing in Milton's previous history which 
could prove him to be an impracticable subject for 
solicitations from those who could make solicitations 
agreeable. He had not written against Court enter- 
tainments, like Prynne or Leighton ; he had himself 
been the author of a Masque. Noble families could 
speak favourably of him. If he had uttered some 
strange words in a University poem, or if his connec- 
tions were with the Puritans, it might be all the more 
desirable to break those notions and that connection 
before any mischief resulted from either. Such cal- 
culations were most reasonable ; Milton could not help 
knowing that they were. He was never without a 
proper and manly self- appreciation ; everything in his 
recent experience must have confirmed it. Under 


such circumstances, what could a sincere man, aware 
of his own weakness, do better than, in the first place, 
cultivate a severe kind of life which should make 
the attractions of luxury comparatively indifferent to 
him ; secondly, take some means of providing himself 
with necessaries which should raise him above the peril 
of being induced to use his pen for that purpose ; 
thirdty, select an occupation which would make him a 
less creditable associate for those who might have been 
glad to amuse themselves with his learning and elo- 
quence ? Milton might almost as much dread to be at 
the mercy of the party whose cause he espoused as of 
that which he opposed. Experience soon showed him 
how little he could support the views of either. He 
owed it, therefore, to truth that he should put himself, 
so far as he could, out of the temptation to this sub- 
serviency also. 

There seems, therefore, no great excuse for the 
merriment into which Johnson was driven, in spite of 
his veneration for Milton. Vapouring away patriotism 
is undoubtedly a very bad thing in a private boarding- 
school, or elsewhere. But it seems not impossible that 
Milton betook himself to the private boarding-school, 
that his patriotism might not pass into vapour, that it 
might remain a substantial possession to him, and that 
he might express it in the form which seemed to him 
the truest. 

And he entered upon the work by which he was to 
earn a livelihood, and keep his honesty, as if it were a 
serious one, into which it concerned his own honour 


and his country's that he should throw his whole 
heart. The situation for his school was not hastily 
chosen. Aldersgate, as Edward Phillips has told us, 
was one of the quietest streets in London. In Mr. 
Cunningham's excellent handbook there is a passage 
respecting it, taken from Howell's " Londonopolis," 
which may give us some notion of its likeness to that 
in which the Post Office now stands. That lively and 
spirited sketch of London was published in 1657, 
eighteen years after Milton hired his house. " This 
street," says Howell, " resembleth an Italian street 
more than any other in London, by reason of the 
spaciousness and uniformity of building, and straight- 
ness thereof, with the convenient distance of the 
houses ; on both sides whereof there are diverse fair 
ones, as Peterhouse, the palace now and mansion of the 
most noble Marquis of Dorchester. Then is there 
the Earl of Thanet's house, with the Moon and Sun 
taverns, very fair structures. Then is there, from 
about the middle of Aldersgate Street, a handsome 
new street, butted out and fairly built by the company 
of Goldsmiths, which reaches athwart as far as Red 
Cross Street." You will find from Mr. Cunningham 
that two members of the Cabal, Lord Shaftesbury and 
the Duke of Lauderdale, had afterwards houses in this 
street ; that Peterhouse was bought by the See of 
London, when the Great Fire had destroyed the 
episcopal residence in St. Paul's Churchyard ; and 
that a Bishop was residing in it as late as 1720. 
Milton must have strained a point to secure a house in 


such a street so occupied. But we learn from his 
letters to Mr. Hartlib, how much the character of the 
place appeared to him to affect the quality of the 
education given in it. 

There he received the sons of some of his more 
intimate friends. One speculates naturally about the 
possible names of these friends, but not to much profit. 
Charles Diodati, the correspondent of his early years, 
was lately dead. Milton had lamented him in a Latin 
Elegy, which Johnson condemns for its pastoral affec- 
tations, but which may, perhaps, conceal under that 
veil deeper feelings than he cared to express in his 
own person, and yet which required some utterance. 
Henry Lawes 

" Whose tuneful and well-measured song 

First taught our English music how to span 
Words with just note and accent, not to scan 
With Midas' ears, committing short and long ; " 

and whom he had claimed as the Casella of another 
Dante, had already been associated with him. 

" Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son," 

is another with whom he seems to have lived on terms 
of cheerful intimacy. He asks : 

" Now that the fields are dank, and ways are mire, 
Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire 
Help waste a sullen day ? " 

But he lives for us only in this invitation. Another of 
his friends was Cyriack Skinner 


" Whose grandsire on the royal bench 
Of British Themis, with no mean applause, 
Pronounced, and in his volumes taught, our laws." 

To him he wrote that pleasant sonnet in which he 
bids him 

" To-day deep thoughts resolve with me to drench 
In mirth that after no repenting draws." 

To him he wrote that grand sonnet upon his blind- 
ness ; so that he must have been a friend in various 
changes of grief and joy. One passage in Phillips 
seems to suggest the possibility of his being a pupil. 
With other more illustrious friends he had probably 
not yet made acquaintance. 

" Vane, young in years, but in sage counsels old," 

as well as Fairfax and Cromwell, must still have 
been strangers to him. We can make no safe con- 
jectures, therefore, about those who may have thought 
him fit to form their sons or kinsmen into scholars and 
citizens. Our knowledge of his lessons, and of the 
effects of them, must be derived from his two nephews, 
the Phillipses, with whom his work began. 

I will not extract the description which Edward 
Phillips gives from his own recollection of the studies 
in Aldersgate Street, because I shall have to give 
much of it in a more expanded form, when I speak of 
the " Letter to Mr. Hartlib." But the testimony which 
he bears to Milton's unsparing industry, to his freedom 
from pedantry, to the example which he set his pupils 
of indifference to ordinary indulgences, and yet to the 


frank, hearty mirth with which he kept his occasional 
" gaudy days " among some beaux of Gray's Inn "not 
nearly so bad," Phillips adds, "as the beaux of our 
days " might help to remove a good many apprehen- 
sions respecting him which are derived from third-hand 
reports, or pure fancy. 

And this evidence is of the more value because it 
was given in very mature life by a man who had not 
imbibed Milton's politics; and who knew, also, and 
frankly confessed, that there were other parts of his 
mind and character which he had imbibed as little. 
Thanks to the indefatigable industry of the author of 
" Caleb Williams," we know a good deal of both of the 
Phillipses. The story is not altogether a pleasant 
one, but it ought to be told, as all truth should 
be, especially when for any reason we feel tempted 
to conceal it. 

The elder sister of John and Edward Phillips was 
that " fair infant dying of a cough," who is celebrated 
in one of Milton's earliest poems. He consoled, you 
may remember, the mother, to whom he was tenderly 
attached, with the thought " of the present she to God 
had sent," and with the hope of an offspring who 
"should make her 'name' to live." That was an 
uncle's prophecy, which he did his best to fulfil, but 
which was not fulfilled. Milton took charge of the 
boys, who were, the one ten, and the other nine. Both 
became vigorous and persevering men of letters. John's 
work began when he was under twenty. He wrote an 
answer to an anonymous attack upon his uncle's " De- 


fence for the People of England," Milton probably 
correcting the Latin, and pointing some of the sen- 
tences. In 1655, he used his pen for a very different 
purpose. He produced what he called "A Satire 
against Hypocrites." The objects of it were the Pres- 
byterians and the Presbyterian clergy. We might 
suppose he was writing in the interest of the Indepen- 
dents. But it was not so. He had become a Royalist, 
and a Royalist of the species which Clarendon de- 
nounces almost as vehemently as Mrs. Hutchinsori ; of 
that species which had brought the cause into disgrace 
with the people, and had done so much to secure the 
success of Cromwell's Ironsides. Then he became a 
writer of prophetical almanacks. The first, published in 
1660, hinted dimly at the confusions of the time and 
the hopes of the Stuarts. The second, in 1661, was 
reckless and furious against those whom he had de- 
fended in his Latin arguments five years before. One 
sentence, quoted by Mr. Godwin, about the execution 
of the Regicides, is as atrocious and brutal a one as a 
dissolute and heartless partisan ever indited. It need 
hardly be said that all the politics of this most earnest 
period only furnished John Phillips with occasion for 
jesting. But it was the same, also, with the most 
wholesome and manly literature of other ages. He 
wrote a wretched travestie of the fifth and sixth 
books of the ^Eneid, intimating an opinion which 
I can believe in such a man was a sincere one 
that Virgil himself was only at bottom a writer of 
burlesque. Becoming a bookseller's hack, he continued 


the "Chronicle of Heath," into which he introduced 
this passage : 

" To better also the condition of the King our Sove- 
reign Charles II. as to his kingdoms, came forth several 
defences of his authority in several treatises, especially 
that of Salmasius, called the Royal Defence, which oar 
Milton, since stricken with blindness, cavilled at." 

It is a worthy and suitable conclusion of such a 
history that John Phillips afterwards appeared as a 
defender of Gates, and an instrument of Shaftesbury ; 
that as soon as James succeeded to the throne he ad- 
dressed him in fulsome panegyric, and that he trans- 
lated " Don Quixote " to suit, as he said, the manners 
of the time, substituting vulgar and stupid English 
allusions for the pure wit and high feelings of Cer- 
vantes. This man, however, seems to have had a 
prodigious industry, to have done his work for the 
booksellers with creditable care ; and, when he spoke 
of subjects that had nothing to do with his own time, 
to have exhibited powers of original thought and 

Edward Phillips was a very different man from his 
brother. He went to Magdalen Hall, Oxford; found 
it under severe Puritan government; took the same 
infection which John Phillips had taken, and brought 
forth a book called " The Mystery of Law and Elo- 
quence," which, judging from Mr. Godwin's extract, 
must have been as licentious, though not nearly so 
malignant, as the Satire on Hypocrites. 

After this first outbreak, his character, as well as his 


pursuits, took a higher tone. He devoted himself to 
History and to Philology, and wrote a continuation of 
Baker's Chronicle, and what he called a " New World 
of Words." He became tutor to a son of Evelyn, who 
would certainly not have chosen him unless he had 
thought well of his conduct and principles. His 
" Theatre of the Poets," on which Sir Egerton Brydges 
has bestowed rather extravagant praise, shows at least 
a wide acquaintance with ancient and modern writers. 
In it he speaks with fraternal partiality of John 
Phillips, and with affectionate reverence of his uncle. 
His "Biography of Milton'* was nearly his latest 
work. It is much more meagre than one could wish, 
but it is simple, earnest, unaffected. In his " Theatre 
of the Poets," Milton's style has evidently been a 
temptation to him. He often becomes inflated in the 
desire to imitate it. Here he speaks truly as from 

I admit, therefore, that in the only two cases we 
know of Milton's education, it produced quite other 
fruits than he would have desired. That his pupils 
became Royalists, might not seem as great a fall to 
us as it must have done to him ; that one of them, at 
least, became a frivolous, dishonest, heartless Royalist, 
must, I should think, appear equally shocking to true 
men of every party. And I am far from denying that 
the elevation of Milton's own mind may have contri- 
buted to this result. A young man who felt the con- 
trast between it and the mind he was cherishing in 
himself, would wrap himself in greater baseness to 


escape the reproach. The Phillipses are fair speci- 
mens of the reaction against Puritanism, which was 
taking place in a number of youths before the Restora- 
tion, and which was to exhibit itself in the nation at 
large afterwards. I have no doubt that a Royalist 
teacher of high and elevated character might have 
driven John Phillips into a furious self-willed Puritan- 
ism. A man of a lower tone in either party would 
probably have suited him better. 

Dr. Busby's discipline might have scourged him into 
a man, while Milton's only provoked him into becom- 
ing a very vulgar gallant. All this should be frankly 
acknowledged, that we may estimate his education 
rightly. But it should also be remembered that the 
Phillips who talked of " the old man that was stricken 
with blindness," never, so far as can be made out, in 
one single passage of his numerous writings, spoke of 
his uncle's lessons as partaking of those qualities 
which gave the occasion to his satire. He probably 
hated him very bitterly ; but he did not pretend that 
he had done anything to make moral principles, or the 
Christian faith, look mean in his eyes. 

I believe, then, we may set this down as one instance 
of the disappointments of which the life of every great 
man, and of every age, reveals a series. I know disap- 
pointments will be pleaded, by any who need them, as 
arguments that great men should not exist, or that all 
their greatness is imaginary. They will be pleaded 
also, as proofs that there is no Providence over the 
world that we are left to the empire of chance. 


They who choose may find in them arguments for 
humility, and therefore for hope. They may feel that 
a Paradise Lost is necessary to a Paradise Regained ; 
that Samson must have been a captive, and blinded 
and mocked, that he might come forth a conqueror. 

Dr. Johnson observes that out of Milton's wonder- 
working academy, nothing proceeded but Phillips's 
" Theatre of the Poets." If he had known what else 
the Phillipses produced besides that, he would not 
perhaps have thought better of the academy, for his 
Toryism never made him tolerant of profligacy and 
insincerity. But the phrase " wonder-working " is 
entirely due to himself. Milton never boasted of the 
academy as having produced any wonders, or as being 
likely to produce them ; he never, so far as I know, 
alludes to his own experiment in education ; certainly 
he does not in the " Letter to Mr. Hartlib," which is 
the treatise especially devoted to that subject. We 
know by accident, from Edward Phillips's Life, that 
he did attempt with his own pupils, on a small scale, 
that which he supposes might be attempted in his 
ideal school. It is a great satisfaction to know that 
he did not write that book merely as a theorist, that 
the boys of whom he speaks are not mere paper boys, 
that he had actually put his hand to the plough, if he 
had not any great results to show from his tillage ; but 
for anything which his tract says to the contrary, it 
might have been written by a teacher who was lament- 
ing his blunders, as much as by a man who was rejoic- 
ing in his success. It is unquestionably the work of a 


man aiming at a standard which he has not reached 
and which he does not expect to see reached by him- 
self, or in his own day, which it is nevertheless right 
to set forth because people of other days who never 
knew him, and probably would have refused to profit 
by anything that he said, might be the better for it. 
Accepting the book in this sense, I think it may at 
least be worth our while to see whether it tells us 
anything which can help to make us better. If we 
take his scheme as a subject for our criticism, we may 
say very clever things about the absurdity or the im- 
practicability of this or that part of it, or in a different 
mood of mind we may resolve that we should gain 
immensely if we could substitute it for all the plans 
which we have inherited or invented; but in either 
case I apprehend we should be doing equal wrong to 
Milton and to ourselves. Every man whose thoughts 
have lived has known that he could only be the 
teacher of another age so far as its own circumstances 
and trials made his words applicable to it ; and that 
a number of his words would be thrown aside as in- 
applicable provided it was to profit by the rest. And 
we surely in our turn ought to know that the more 
we are disposed to learn and the less we are inclined 
to cavil, the greater will be our security against adopt- 
ing that which is not intended for us, the greater our 
chance of discovering that which is. 

" I am long since persuaded, " he begins, " that to 
say or do aught worth memory and imitation, no purpose 
or respect should sooner move us than simply the love 


of God and of mankind. ... I will not resist therefore 
whatever it is of human or divine obligement that you 
lay upon me, but will forthwith set down in writing, 
as you request me, that voluntary idea of a better 
education, in extent and comprehension far more large, 
and yet of time far shorter, and of attainment far more 
certain, than hath been yet in practice. Brief I shall 
endeavour to be ; for that which I have to say, assuredly 
this nation hath extreme need should be done sooner 
than spoken. To tell you therefore what I have bene- 
fited herein among old renowned authors, and to search 
what many modern Januas and Didactics, more than 
ever I shall read, have projected, my inclination leads 
me not ; but if you can accept of these few observations 
which have flowered off, and are, as it were, the bur- 
nishing of many studious and contemplative years, 
altogether spent in the search of religious and civil 
knowledge, and such as pleased you so well in the 
relating, I here give you them to dispose of." 

Schemes for increasing the extent of knowledge and 
shortening the time for acquiring it, have become so 
rife among us in these later years, that we listen with a 
natural kind of suspicion to any of them by whom- 
soever propounded, and assume that there must be 
quackery, conscious or unconscious, at the bottom of it. 
But assuredly Milton did not contemplate lessening 
the depth and sincerity of learning by his sugges- 
tions for enlarging the compass of it.- It was this 
depth and sincerity which he complained of as want- 
ing in the schools and universities of his day. Nor 


was he revolutionary in this sense, that he undervalued 
the principle which he found to be implied in the 
teaching of those institutions. Languages had been 
his own favourite study ; languages had been the pro- 
fessed study of his countrymen, and with languages he 
begins. The maxim that " language is but the instru- 
ment conveying to us things useful to be known," 
which underlies his whole treatise, might lead us to 
suppose that he did not value it at all as a direct means 
of culture ; but this conclusion would be a hasty one. 
He evidently considered that the study of the substance 
of good books was the way, and the only way, to arrive 
at the living apprehension and mastery of their lang- 
uage, and therefore at any of the sound mental discip- 
line which a language may impart. On this ground 
it is that he protests against what he calls " the pre- 
posterous exaction of forcing the empty wits of chil- 
dren to compose themes, verses, and orations, which 
are the acts of ripest judgment, and the final work 
of a head filled, by long reading and observing, with 
elegant maxims and copious invention. These are not 
matters," he says, i( to be wrung from poor striplings, 
like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely 
fruit ; besides the ill habit which they get of wretched 
barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom with 
their untutored Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet 
not to be avoided without a well-continued and 
judicious conversing among pure authors digested." 
These remarks you perceive, whether just or not 
in themselves, are the utterances of a scholar, even 


of a somewhat fastidious scholar. His compassion to 
boys is sustained by a great horror of their solecisms. 
He would save them from exercises which he regards 
as useless and cruel at the time when they are im- 
posed ; but it is that they may be better fitted to 
perform those exercises afterwards. Such sentiments 
at all events do not come inconsistently from a man 
who had written so much Latin poetry himself, and 
who made it the condition of his accepting the 
Secretaryship under Cromwell, that the correspon- 
dence with Foreign Powers should be in Latin as 
a common language for intercourse. 

It is, however, quite true that Milton aspired to 
make the grammar-school a real school. This is the 
characteristic feature of his education. Both here and 
in Germany the two kinds of instruction are opposed 
to each other ; the teaching of words or of Philology 
is supposed to be one business; the teaching of business, 
or, as we sometimes say, of common things, to be 
another. He believed this division to be artificial and 
unnecessary ; the best school in things he thought 
would be the best school in words. I do not know 
whether he has anywhere expressed his opinion of 
Bacon, or whether he had studied the Novum Organon. 
The minds of the two men were so exceedingly unlike 
that it is quite possible he never fully appreciated his 
great predecessor; but the influence of his habits of 
thinking is most manifest in the treatise on Education. 
It is in fact an application of Bacon's maxims, and an 
attempt to destroy some of the very idols at which he 


had struck a blow. Thus he complains of the Univer- 
sities that, " Instead of beginning with Arts most easy, 
and those be such as are most obvious to the sense, they 
present their young unmatriculated novices at first 
coming with the most intellective abstractions of Logic 
and Metaphj^sics." Here he distinctly points out the 
road to knowledge as starting from the objects of sense, 
as being tentative and experimental with reference to 
them, as leading onward by that method to the dis- 
covery of principles and truths. He declares, just as 
Bacon does, against the opposite course, of beginning 
from abstractions and conclusions of our intellects, as 
being fatal to all healthy progress and all certain re- 
sults. It may be urged, indeed with great force, that 
such remarks applied much more properly to the 
Universities when they were frequented, as in Milton's 
day, by boys of fifteen or even of twelve, than they 
can do to this time ; that the previous discipline in 
arts most easy and obvious to the sense, may have been 
well got through before the ages of eighteen or nineteen, 
and that then Logic and Metaphysics may claim their 
rightful place as preparations for approaching man- 
hood. I say nothing against or for these statements ; 
only I think that in that case the countrymen of Bacon 
and of Milton should see to it that there has been that 
preliminary instruction, and that it has been well gone 
through, lest those consequences which he speaks of 
in his time should ever have to be mourned over in 
ours. For these novices, he says, " having but newly 
left those grammatic flats and shallows, where they 


stuck unreasonably to learn a few words with lament- 
able construction, and now on the sudden transported 
under another climate to be tossed and turmoiled with 
their unballasted wits in fathomless and unquiet deeps 
of controversy, do for the most part grow into hatred 
and contempt of learning, mocked and deluded all this 
while with ragged notions and babblements, while 
they expected worthy and delightful knowledge ; till 
poverty, or youthful years, call them importunately 
their several ways, and hasten them with the sway of 
friends either to an ambitious and mercenary, or ignor- 
antly zealous divinity; some allured to the trade of 
law, grounding their purposes not on the prudent and 
heavenly contemplation of justice and equity, which 
was never taught them, but on the promising and 
pleasing thoughts of litigious terms, fat contentions, 
and flowing fees. Others betake them to State affairs, 
with souls so unprincipled in virtue and true generous 
breeding, that flattery, and court shifts, and tyrannous 
aphorisms appear to them the highest points of wisdom, 
instilling their barren hearts with a conscientious 
slavery, if, as I rather think, it be not feigned. Others, 
lastly, of a more delicious and airy spirit, retire them- 
selves, knowing no better, to the enjoyments of ease 
and luxury, living out their days in feasts and jollity, 
which indeed is the wisest and safest course of all these 
unless they were with more integrity undertaken." 

So far Milton has been speaking against some of the 
practices which he saw, and laying down principles 
for reforming them. Now he proceeds to the more 


hazardous task of tracing the outlines of his own plan. 
He begins with finding out a spacious house and 
ground about it fit for an academy, and big enough to 
lodge one hundred and fifty persons, whereof twenty or 
thereabouts may be attendants, all under the govern- 
ment of one. Everyone will perceive that the house in 
Aldersgate Street was only the attempt of an indi- 
vidual to do with the most imperfect appliances what 
he wished should be done, probably by the Govern- 
ment, though he does not directly say so, in every 
city throughout the land. This institution was to be 
both school and university : an unhappy and incon- 
venient arrangement, it seems to me, and one which 
would defeat many of the purposes which Milton 
had most at heart. As Edward Phillips went to 
Oxford, we may presume that his uncle did not at any 
rate suppose that his own school could serve this 
double purpose. 

When he comes to the studies which are to be pur- 
sued in the school or college, we find him attaching 
considerable importance to grammar, but still more to 
distinct and clear pronunciation, " as near as may be to 
the Italian, especially in the vowels." Obviously 
therefore Latin is in his school, as in others, the first 
instrument of the teacher; but it is an instrument, 
and he finds it not always a convenient one for his 
purpose. He complains that there are few books 
among the Latin classics, like Cebes and Plutarch, 
which would win them early to the love of virtue and 
true labour. The deficiency must be supplied by the 


teacher himself, who is to use all books, whatsoever 
they be, to stir them " up with high hopes of living to 
be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God and 
famous to all ages." Some other hour of the day 
these younger pupils are to be taught the rules of 
arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry. 
After evening repast their thoughts will be best taken 
up in the easy grounds of religion, and the story of 

The next step " of Milton's education " is to the 
authors on agriculture, Cato, Varro, and Columella; 
" for here," he says, " will be an occasion of inciting 
and enabling them hereafter to improve the tillage of 
their country, to recover the bad soil, and to remedy 
the waste that is made of good." Still the verbal 
education is going on with the real. The subject will 
make the words of the writers he has named enter 
into their minds. When they can construe them, 
they will be masters of any ordinary prose. Next he 
would have them learn in any modern author the use 
of globes and of maps, and read some compendious 
method of Natural Philosophy. Next we plunge into 
Greek, and a somewhat tremendous plunge it is ! For 
having learnt the grammar with great expedition, 
Milton assures us that the historical physiology of 
Aristotle and Theophrastus will all be open before us. 
Then Greek and Latin authors together help in the 
principles of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and 
geography. We get instructed in fortification, archi- 
tecture, engineering, or navigation. In Natural 


Philosophy we proceed leisurely from the history of 
meteors, minerals, plants, and living creatures as far as 
anatomy. Then we are to read out of some not tedi- 
ous writer the institution of physics. 

I am perfectly aware that a number of these sugges- 
tions would sound absurd and extravagant anywhere, 
and nowhere more absurd and extravagant than to an 
audience like this, which can estimate in some degree 
the depth and intricacy of those subjects of which 
Milton disposes so rapidly, and who also are not likely 
to set much store by the manuals out of which he 
would deliver his lessons. I do not suppose anyone 
would propose to teach agriculture in Cato, or Natural 
Philosophy in Seneca. But the question which I 
started before, I must renew now. Is it wiser to 
amuse ourselves with a great man, or to get the best 
wisdom we can out of him, leaving what does not suit 
us, as he would have wished that we should? The 
object of Milton is clearly not to cram his pupils with 
an immense quantity of verbal information, but to 
bring all verbal information to a test, by connecting it 
with the operations of nature and of man. If his own 
amazing power of acquisition led him greatly to over- 
rate that of ordinary boys, and if the machinery he 
had to work with was a very awkward and cumbrous 
one, we might surely correct his over-doing by con- 
tinually recurring to the end for which he recommends 
it, and avail ourselves of our own advantages to remove 
embarrassments from his method which he would have 
rejoiced to remove if he had known how. And I think 


you will allow that if Milton is an Idealist, he is a 
stern Realist too ; one who would have us always con- 
versant with facts rather than with names ; one who 
aims as directly at the useful as the most professed 
Utilitarian could do. His reason for giving his pupils 
a knowledge of physics is that " perchance one of them 
may some time or another save an army by this frugal 
and expenseless means, and not let the healthy and 
stout bodies of young men under him rot away for 
want of this discipline, which is a great pity and no 
less a shame to the commander." To set forward their 
proceedings in nature and mathematics, he would have 
them procure, as oft as shall be needful, the helpful 
experiences of hunters, fowlers, fishermen, shepherds, 
gardeners, apothecaries; and in the other sciences 
architects, engineers, mariners, anatomists: and this 
will give them such a real tincture of natural know- 
ledge as they shall never forget, but daily augment 
with delight. Hesiod and Theocritus, Lucretius and 
the "Georgics" of Virgil, he thinks, will add to the 
delight of these studies, and will be far more under- 
stood and relished than they are wont to be, by those 
who have taken some part in them. 

I do not suppose that I have much occasion to deal 
here with the objections of Johnson against this method 
of instruction, which are grounded upon the compara- 
tive insignificance of a knowledge of external nature, 
and of the sciences which that knowledge requires or 
includes. But I may observe that never were good 
and well-delivered sentences more thrown away, or 


more utterly inappropriate to the purpose for which 
they are used, than those in which he maintains that 
moral knowledge is superior to physical, and that the 
main end of education is to fit us for living as true 
men. No principle is so constantly asserted through- 
out Milton's tractate as that ; no one was more worked 
into the whole tissue of his instruction. Instead of 
using the classics as they are often used in schools, 
with the apology that they are very useful for forming 
a style or some such beggarly purpose, but with a half 
doubt whether they may not be undermining the 
moral sense of the pupils and contradicting higher 
truths, he uses orators, poets, lawgivers, simply as 
instruments for forming brave men and good citizens, 
maintaining that if they do not serve that purpose it 
is the teacher's fault, because he misunderstands the 
nature of his pupils and the end of life, or the relation 
of the wisdom in these books to a more perfect wisdom. 
Everything in his lessons from first to last is aiming at 
the formation of a manly character, and an English 
character. Believing that the acquaintance with reali- 
ties is precious for his pupil in each of these respects ; 
that an Englishman is the most poor and helpless of all 
creatures when he is only busy about abstractions, the 
most vigorous and effectual when he is in converse 
with facts ; believing that a man is meant to rule 
Nature, and must humble himself to it that he may 
understand it and so rule it, he does not shrink from 
recommending those studies as vital parts of a good 
education which Johnson regarded only as its extra- 


neous accidents: but he just as little exalts natural 
studies as he exalts language into an end instead of an 
instrument. The test of both is to mould men who 
can fight the battle of life. 

To this end he regards exercises as contributing no 
less than studies. "That exercise/' he says, " which I 
recommend first, is the exact use of their weapon, to 
guard and to strike safely with edge and point. This 
will keep them healthy, nimble, strong, and well in 
breath ; is also the likeliest means to make them grow 
large and tall, and to inspire them with a gallant and 
fearless courage, which, being tempered with seasonable 
lectures and precepts to them of true fortitude and 
patience, will turn into a native and heroic valour, and 
make them hate the cowardice of doing wrong. They 
must also be practised in all the locks and gripes of 
wrestling, wherein Englishmen were wont to excel, as 
need may often be in fight to tug and grapple and to 
close." In fact his education is very military, for 
" about two hours before supper they are, by a sudden 
alarum or watchword, to be called out to their military 
motions under sky or cover according to the seasons ; 
first on foot," then, as their age permits, "on horse- 
back." They are, " in sport," but with much exactness 
and daily muster, " to serve out the rudiments of their 
soldiership in all the skill of embattling, marching, 
encamping, besieging, and battering, with all the helps 
of ancient and modern stratagems, tactics, and warlike 
maxims." " Besides these constant exercises at home," 
he adds, " there is another opportunity of gaining ex- 


perience, to be won from pleasure itself abroad. In 
those vernal seasons of the year when the air is calm 
and pleasant, it were an injury against Nature not to 
go out and see her riches and partake in her rejoicing. 
I should not therefore be a persuader to them of 
studying much then, but to ride out in companies with 
prudent and staid guides to all the quarters of the 
land, learning and observing all places of strength, all 
commodities of building and of soil for towns and 
tillage, harbours, and ports of trade ; sometimes taking- 
sea as far as to our navy, to learn there also what they 
can in the practical knowledge of sailing and sea- 

By these means he hopes to cultivate the peculiar 
gifts of his pupils, and "if there were any secret 
excellence among them, to fetch it out ; " and this he 
thinks would restore many old virtues and excellences 
to our land which its higher Christian knowledge 
would prevent from degenerating into violence and 
brutality. To counteract these indeed is the great 
end of all his discipline. No one speaks more of 
refined breeding and culture as being desirable and 
possible for all people whatsoever. No one takes, 
what I suppose we should all consider, more rational 
means for promoting it. The study of music, as we 
might expect, is an essential element of his education. 
It is not reserved for a few fortunate persons, but is to 
be used for the benefit of the whole school, expressly 
because, " if wise men and prophets be not extremely 
out, it has a great power over dispositions and manners, 


to smooth and make them gentle from rustic harshness 
and distempered passions." 

I had intended to make many apologies for speaking 
to you upon a subject very unlike those with which 
you are ordinarily instructed and entertained here, and 
which, besides its strangeness, is deficient in all the 
aids which those subjects derive from brilliant experi- 
ments and skilful exposition. But I have thought 
that on the whole Milton might make the apology 
better than I could. His object as a schoolmaster was 
to unite natural studies with human studies, that both 
might contribute to the formation of just men and a 
sound Commonwealth. I believe that is the object 
which the conductors of this Institution have at heart, 
and which perhaps they may aid by lessons of which 
he was ignorant; but as I am sure that one of the 
chief lessons which your studies of the mysteries of 
the universe teach you, is humility, you will not be 
ashamed to learn from a man who may have made 
a thousand mistakes which we need not make, but 
who nevertheless had a wisdom and a righteousness 
of purpose in him which the best and truest will most 
delight to honour and be most eager to possess. 



I SHALL make no apology for speaking to you, to 
members of a Literary Society, on the life of a great 
English statesman. I believe that you desire, as far as 
in you lies, to allay party fevers ; to substitute questions 
of general interest for those which agitate particular 
localities. I do not know how you can promote either 
end more effectually than by reflecting on the history 
of a man, who was mixed in the party strifes of his 
own day, who did not escape from them unscathed, 
yet who was continually seeking for principles which 
belong to all times. Now that he has been almost 
sixty years in his grave, when there are so very few 
left who heard his words or even remember the influ- 
ence he exerted on his contemporaries, we can under- 
stand what there is of him which has passed away, 
and what there is which has survived and will always 
survive. The result, I am sure, will not lead us to 
care more for mere accidental and temporary excite- 
ments ; it may teach us that we cannot safely separate 

1 Delivered at the Bury St. Edmunds Literary Society, 1857. 


our literary pursuits, even our literary recreations, from 
the history and life of our nation. 

Edmund Burke, however, was a man of letters as 
well as a statesman. Other questions interested him, 
besides those which came under his notice in the 
House of Commons ; what did come under his notice 
there, he spoke of in words which have delighted 
numbers who thought little of the special occasions 
which called them forth. I might limit myself to the 
consideration of him as an Essayist and an Orator, 
forgetting that he had ever argued for Economical 
Reform, or impeached Warren Hastings, or arraigned 
"a regicide peace." But I confess that he does not 
interest me chiefly as either statesman, essayist, or 
orator that I should not care for him in any of these 
characters if I did not perceive that he was first of all 
a Man. I may disagree with a number of his opinions ; 
I shall not tell you with how many I agree or disagree. 
But he himself, I think, is a subject worthy of all 
study, and of very sincere affection. That I may 
know him, I must get what light I can from any of 
his acts or discourses. Whatever names they bear, 
however they may be classified, they will show us 
something of him ; it may be his weakness, it may be 
his strength. Only I find it a good rule, when I am 
contemplating a person from whom I want to learn, 
always to look out for his strength, being confident 
that the weakness will discover itself, as far as it is 
good for me to be aware of it, without seeking for it. 

Edmund Burke was born in Dublin, in the year 


1730. He was the Irishman of the last age, as the 
Duke of Wellington was the Irishman of this. But it 
was easier to guess the nationality of the first than of 
the second ; for we assume that every Irishman is born 
an orator, and this is just the faculty which the great 
soldier did not possess. There was no early develop- 
ment of it in Burke. The younger Pitt is said to have 
been set upon a chair by his father and to have deli- 
vered speeches when he was six years of age a 
story illustrating the vanity which mixed with the 
nobler qualities of the Earl of Chatham. Burke, to 
all appearance, escaped the terrible calamity of being 
a youthful prodigy. There are no reports, so far as 
I know, of any extraordinary feats that he did in the 
way of learning, or of any wonderful sayings that he 
uttered. He was sent to the school of a Mr. Shackleton, 
a modest and sensible Quaker, who probably checked 
any tendency there might be in him to premature 
display ; a good reason, if it was so, why Burke should 
have loved him, as we know he did, to the end of his 
days. This reverence for his master, and his cordial 
affection for his brother and several of his schoolfellows, 
afforded a better promise, I conceive, for the future, 
intellectually as well as morally, than the most rapid 
growth in abilities and acquisition would have done. 
The open-hearted, warm-hearted boy draws in nourish- 
ment from all that he sees, hears, and reads ; the clever 
boy often gives out more than he receives. 

Burke went from Mr. Shackleton's school to Trinity 
College, Dublin. He was younger than boys at our 


Universities are, only fourteen, when he entered the 
College, and eighteen when he took his degree. Of 
those years likewise, there are not very clear records. 
One cannot make out that he shone among his con- 
temporaries, or that he won any conspicuous honours. 
But he never can have been idle, never without a 
purpose. He may not have framed to himself a distinct 
plan of his future life. Very few do that ; and those 
who do, are not always the wisest. A young man 
cannot predict into what circumstances he may here- 
after be thrown, or what work may be provided for him. 
He can be learning how men of other days have 
thought, and acted, and fought their way ; he can be 
finding out what he is capable of, he can be struggling 
with the petty distractions and temptations of each 
hour. Burke may not have been making this prepara- 
tion the less because his path was a quiet one. He 
was involved enough in the bustle of the world after- 
wards. It was probably just as good for him that he 
did not anticipate it at College, and that he did not 
come up to London preceded by any flourish of trumpets 
to tell what he was going to be. 

In 1750 he was in London, at the Middle Temple. 
His father was an attorney, and wished him no doubt 
to distinguish himself at the English bar. He must 
have been acquiring a knowledge of law while he was 
in the Temple, for he showed that he had it afterwards 
when he became a statesman. But he does not seem 
to have been able to connect the study of it with the 
practice of it. That he declined to engage in, then. 

304 EDMUND BURKE. [xi. 

And I should imagine, from remarks he made upon 
lawyers afterwards, when he was drawing a spirited 
sketch of the character of Mr. George Grenville, that 
the resolution was formed deliberately, and that he did 
not regret it. Whether he took a wiser and safer course 
in giving himself to literature, and in becoming a 
writer for periodicals, I dare not pronounce. Men are 
conducted in strange ways. A better Wisdom than 
their own shapes their ends; their self-will is sometimes 
turned to their discipline and instruction. Certainly 
Burke did not avoid, as no man will, temptations and 
vexations by entering upon this path. He never, it 
would appear, had to struggle with a poverty which 
some of the friends whom he knew in later years 
encountered. He brought some money with him ; he 
had not the recklessness which we are apt to attribute 
to his countrymen; the tasks which he undertook under 
the patronage of the booksellers were wisely "selected," 
and proved in general prosperous. It was seven or 
eight years, however, before he entered upon the most 
judicious and successful of them, the "Annual Register;" 
and in the meantime he may have experienced many 
of the hopes deferred, the sickening disappointments, 
the sore struggles with the question, whether it is 
not well to part with a little honesty for the sake 
of pleasing the public, which most who give up a 
profession for the sake of what they suppose is the 
greater freedom and elevation of a literary life, have 
to endure. 

Seeing, however, that he was destined to be a poll- 


tician hereafter, all this training was, I have no doubt, 
very profitable to him. It brought him into acquaint- 
ance with men and books together with common men 
and not with fine men, with books that would enlarge 
the circle of his thoughts, his knowledge of other 
countries, and of history ; not with books that would 
train him rapidly for a clerk or a diplomatist. He 
boasted in his later days, with great truth, that he was 
not " rocked and dandled into a legislator." This was 
no doubt a time when he was passing through a rough 
discipline, which fitted him to make laws by learning 
something of the men who have to obey them, possibly 
some of the motives which there are to break them. 
He learnt also to feel for the necessities of authors, a 
lesson of which not a few received the benefits in his 
own prosperity. 

In your town, to Suffolk men, I need mention but 
one instance which gives him some claim upon your 
gratitude and that of all Englishmen. When the poor 
boy of Aldborough, George Crabbe, had served his 
apprenticeship to a surgeon near Bury, and then at 
Woodbridge, and had gone to London and made appli- 
cation to one patron after another, it was Burke who 
read the MSS. and the letter of the poor youth who 
was walking about in despair upon Westminster Bridge, 
and saved him from starvation to write "The Borough" 
and " The Tales of a Hall." 

Though in one sense a servant of the booksellers, 
Burke was not merely doing such work as would bring 
in bread for the moment and then be forgotten. He 

306 * EDMUND BURKE. [xi. 

made at least two permanent additions to the literature 
of his country. I must speak of them, because in dif- 
ferent ways they illustrate the character of the man, 
and show how unlike his training for public employ- 
ment was to that of most official men. 

The first is entitled "A Vindication of Natural 
Society." This title may startle anyone who is ac- 
quainted with the general purpose of Burke's life, and 
with the maxims for which he was contending in 
every part of it. No one had less respect for the con- 
dition of the savage than he had; no one was less 
inclined to overthrow the order of society, and recon- 
struct it, by dwelling on what men might have been 
before they entered into it. He believed that men are 
social beings by God's constitution, and that they 
cannot be good for anything when they are not living 
as if they were. The notions which became exceedingly 
popular a short time afterwards, here as well as in 
France, those of which Rousseau was the great cham- 
pion, about the necessity of sweeping away the vices 
of civilization by returning to the life of the woods, 
had never the slightest hold upon him ; his mind, 
which was essentially historical, utterly rebelled against 
them; he scarcely did justice to that strong sense of 
the evils of artificial life in which they originated. 
How then did he care to write a "Vindication of 
Natural Society " ? The book is a parody upon the 
style and manner of Lord Bolingbroke. That writer 
had been very fond of maintaining that natural religion 
by which he meant the religion that man discovers 


for himself is all-sufficient for him ; that a Revelation 
is altogether unnecessary, and has corrupted that which 
existed before it. The promulgator of this opinion 
was an eminently refined person, a despiser of the 
vulgar, a man formed by, and formed for, artificial 
life who played occasionally with haycocks and pitch- 
forks with a very graceful imitation of nature, but who 
would have liked as ill to have abandoned his dignities 
and worked for his food as anyone that ever existed. 
The wit of Burke's essay is, that he supposes this very 
aristocratic man to maintain the advantage of a purely 
natural society upon the very same ground upon which 
he had maintained the advantages of a purely natural 
religion. The imitation of style was so skilful, that 
many are said to have been deceived by it. I cannot 
understand how such a mistake could have been possi- 
ble for any who had the very slightest acquaintance 
with the designs or character of Bolingbroke. The 
outside resemblance only makes the internal contrast 
more striking. What I wish you, however, chiefly 
to recollect, is, that Burke did not appear in his first 
conspicuous work merely or chiefly as a successful 
jester. A parody may be very amusing; but he had 
as distinct and serious a purpose in this as in any of 
his writings. It showed, among other things, what 
kind of statesmen he did not admire or aspire to resem- 
ble. Bolingbroke was the most showy of all political 
actors as well as writers. There was none by whom a 
young man was more likely to be attracted. He had 
taken what might strike anyone as a very comprehensive 

308 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i. 

view of the state of parties in England. He had 
shown that he could adapt himself to the circumstances 
of the time, and be a friend of the Pretender, or of the 
Brunswick succession, a defender of the old country 
school, a liberal philosopher, each by turns, or even 
so enlarged and elastic was his scheme of action all 
at once. No one could utter finer or more fantastic 
maxims, no one had greater skill in making history 
illustrate what doctrines he wished it to illustrate. 
He was, moreover, the friend and teacher of Pope, 
the most popular poet of the eighteenth century, whom 
Burke doubtless heartily admired. There was much 
to captivate him in such a model ; yet he was repelled, 
not captivated. He discerned petty spite against 
individuals who had injured him in the boaster of 
comprehensiveness ; a strut and affectation, and per- 
petual self-glorification in the would-be patriot; a want 
of any real reverence for men, or love of men, in the 
student of human actions. He appears therefore to 
have determined, very solemnly, that, whatever guide 
he followed, Bolingbroke should be his beacon, and not 
his guide. I see much of his own after-life in this 
resolution, and therefore I have been more careful to 
speak of the book which contains the first indication 
of it. 

The other book which Burke wrote at this time was 
" An Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the 
Sublime and Beautiful." I do not propose to follow 
him through this inquiry, though I conceive that it is 
an interesting one, and that the study of this treatise, 


if we agree with its conclusions ever so little, will be 
well rewarded. But you will be inclined to exclaim, 
" What ! did he really intend to connect himself with 
the affairs of the country ? Was he contemplating a 
seat in Parliament ? And did he turn aside to write a 
treatise on a question of Taste, fit only for poets and 
artists?" I ought not to deny that it is a question about 
taste ; for the introduction is entirely devoted to that 
subject. But his object is not to lay down certain 
rules or maxims as to that which we ought or ought 
not to like, but to find out whether there is not some 
ground on which our likings and dislikings rest, whether 
there are not some perceptions and feelings which are 
common to us all. All of us who are met in this room 
to-night have some admiration for the stupendous power 
of Nature, have some delight in what is graceful and 
harmonious. There may be a great many degrees in 
this admiration or this delight. They may be called 
forth by one object in one person, by another in 
another. The susceptibility of such emotions as well as 
the power of expressing them, may be much greater in 
some poet like Mr. Wordsworth or Mr. Tennyson, than 
in any of us. But then, why is it that we like to read 
the poems of a man who has more of this feeling than 
we have ourselves ? Is it not because we look upon 
him as our spokesman ? He brings out something 
that was hidden in us that we did not know was in 
us. He says what we should like to say if we could. 
He is not, then, a more special man than we are ; he 
is more of a common man. The human sympathies 


have been more awakened in him than in us. If so, it 
may surely be possible to find out what that is in us all 
which receives these impressions. We need not be at 
the mercy of every fine gentleman who says, " That is 
my taste ; I like this or that work of nature or of art ; 
I call it beautiful, my opinion makes it so." But we 
may inquire whether there are not some principles 
which determine our admiration or enjoyment. We 
may treat men's thoughts on this subject, and the words 
in which they describe them, just as the chemist treats 
any material that falls under his analysis. 

Now this is exactly what Burke has attempted. He 
uses this language at the outset of his inquiry, which is 
just such language as Mr. Faraday or Professor Owen 
would use about the subjects in which they are such 
acknowledged masters : 

"The term taste, like all other . figurative terms, is 
not extremely accurate. ... I have no great 
opinion of a definition, the celebrated remedy for the 
cure of this disorder. For when we define, we seem in 
danger of circumscribing Nature within the bounds of 
our own notions, which we often take up by hazard, or 
embrace on trust, or form out of a limited and partial 
consideration of the object before us, instead of extend- 
ing our ideas to take in all that Nature comprehends, 
according to her manner of combining. ... A 
definition may be very exact, and yet go but a very 
little way towards informing us of the nature of the 
thing defined ; but let the virtue of a definition be 
what it will, in the order of things, it seems rather to 


follow than to precede our inquiry, of which it ought 
to be considered as the result. It must be acknow- 
ledged that the methods of disquisition and teaching 
may be sometimes different, and on very good reason 
undoubtedly ; but, for my part, I am convinced that 
the method of teaching which approaches most nearly 
to the method of investigation, is incomparably the best; 
since, not content with serving up a few barren and 
lifeless truths, it leads to the stock on which they 
grew; it tends to set the reader himself in the track 
of invention, and to direct him into those paths in 
which the author has made his own discoveries, if he 
should be so happy as to have made any that are 

I think, if you put these things together, you will 
agree with me that Burke may have been learning 
very useful lessons while he was pursuing this subject, 
lessons respecting his fellow-men, lessons respect- 
ing the fixed principles there may be even in things 
that are most fluctuating, lessons respecting the right 
method of seeking for these principles. And these 
lessons were, I conceive, just what he would need 
when he became a statesman. He would then find 
himself amidst a number of petty interests, and of men 
pursuing these interests to the forgetfulness of any 
high and general purposes. He might easily persuade 
himself that human beings had in them no faculties 
for wondering at what is sublime, or delighting in what 
is beautiful. It was surely good for him to have con- 
vinced himself beforehand that they had these faculties ; 

312 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i. 

that such gifts were not confined to a few favourites 
of fortune or men of letters, but that they dwell in 
the hearts of peasants and handicraftsmen, ready to be 
called forth when once the right spring is touched. 
This, I take it, was a very great truth indeed for a 
politician to be initiated into, and one which he was 
much less likely to discover after he had once begun to 
run in the political rut. And next, as he is perpetually 
in the midst of the most variable and changing acci- 
dents, as the events which he may be occupied with 
to-day are different from those with which he was 
occupied yesterday, as he has to notice endless vicissi- 
tudes of tempers and motives in men, he is very likely 
indeed to think that all things are subjects of accidents 
and caprice, that there is no order in the affairs of the 
world at all, that they are only pedants who talk about 
principles. You will allow that this is a most fatal 
impression for any man to receive, fatal to the honesty 
of an individual's life, and therefore fatal to the honesty 
of a statesman's life. And yet how great the tempta- 
tion to it must be ! How much greater than we, who 
are out of the vortex of that life, can possibly conjecture ! 
How almost impossible it must be for a man who is 
merely trained in diplomacy, or in managing popular 
assemblies, not to yield to it ! But there is also the 
third danger, of a man becoming actually a pedant in 
his apparent zeal about principles, of his laying down 
certain rules and definitions for himself, and measuring 
the actions of men, the course of history, by these : So 
he may get himself a credit for rigidness of purpose and 


high consistency ; yet all the while it will be a purpose 
of his own which he is following, not the Divine pur- 
pose. His consistency may arise from the very narrow 
horizon with which his sight is bounded ; he may have 
no view to the right or the left ; at last he may come 
to look at very little but his own shadow. That 
method, then, which Burke had learnt from men of 
science, and which he applied to questions of art, may 
have been of the greatest worth in showing him how he 
should deal with the subjects that presented themselves 
to him as a legislator. He was^not to curb and control 
them by his notions and definitions ; he was, faithfully 
and laboriously, with ever fresh humility and confes- 
sion of his own mistakes, to seek for the truth that 
was involved in them, that he might guide himself 
by it. 

If you turn over any edition of Burke's works, you 
will probably find, next to the " Inquiry into the Sub- 
lime and Beautiful," two tracts : the first, "An Account 
of a Short Administration ; " the second, " Observa- 
tions on a late publication entitled ' The present state 
of the Nation.' " You will be inclined to ask, How 
can we bridge over the chasm between works of so 
strangely dissimilar a kind ? I have given you one or 
two hints which may perhaps help you to answer the 
question, so far as the topics treated of, and the way of 
handling them, are concerned. But, of course, the 
change which they indicate in the author's pursuits 
and modes of life needs to be explained. Much indeed 
had passed in the interval between these publications ; 

314 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i 

he had gone to Bath for his health, and been married. 
He had written for the publisher of his essay " An Ac- 
count of the European Settlements in America," and in 
preparing this task had acquired a far greater know- 
ledge of English trade and of the principles of trade 
generally, than belonged to his contemporaries ; he had 
commenced a History of England ; he had traced the 
contemporary history in the " Annual Register." Then, 
in the year 1759, he returned to Ireland as private 
secretary to William Gerard Hamilton, the Chief 
Secretary of the Lord-Lieutenant. Hamilton was a 
man who liked reputation, and most prudently refused 
to risk it ; he had delivered one speech in the House of 
Commons, and as that procured him the only advan- 
tage for which he supposed speeches were to be de- 
livered, he never made another. He also liked patron- 
age, and liked that those whom he patronized should 
be his slaves. Finding Burke an exceedingly useful 
slave, he wished to retain him in that character. But 
as Burke had a strange and ungrateful preference for 
freedom, he resigned the pension which Hamilton had 
procured for him, and returned to England. Then he 
became private secretary to a much juster and wiser 
man, the Marquis of Buckingham. He received no 
salary from him, and he obtained a seat in Parliament 
without his aid ; but he was deeply and personally at- 
tached to the Marquis, and it was the dismissal of his 
short Administration in 1766, which Burke commem- 
orated in the first pamphlet to which I alluded. That 
pamphlet merely enumerates in a few clear, forcible 


words, the acts by which he judged that Lord Rock- 
ingham's Ministry had deserved the gratitude of the 
country. He had already defended some of those acts 
in the House of Commons ; he had probably had much 
to do with the suggestion and preparation of them in 
the closet. And now it was perceived, by men who 
may not have been very willing to make the discovery, 
that a student of principles could be a more indefatig- 
able drudge in working out details than those who 
never devoted themselves to any other business. This 
is a leading characteristic of Burke ; and I should be 
losing a great moral of his career if I passed it over. 
You have often heard of his brilliant declamation and 
his inexhaustible fancy. You should never allow such 
phrases to make you forget that he was a more pains- 
taking collector and methodizer of facts, that he under- 
stood statistics better, than any clerk. I do not put 
this statement forward as if there was anything won- 
derful in it. I conceive it was most natural that the 
man who could see most significance and order in 
facts and figures, should apply himself to them most 
vigorously and cordially. The wonder is, that those 
who have no human association with them, who do 
not see that they lead to anything or involve any- 
thing, should be able to treat them with any patience. 
Burke might well be diligent, for his diligence brought 
some reward with it I mean the kind of reward such 
a man values most. It enabled him to be of some 
benefit to his fellow-creatures, and to see the path in 
which it behoved him to walk. 


There were other rewards, often more coveted than 
these, which he did not despise, but which came to 
him more slowly. It was his friend Goldsmith who 
said about him he was far too magnanimous to make 
any such complaint himself 

" In short, 'twas his fate, unemployed, or in place, sir, 
To eat mutton cold and cut blocks with a razor." 

The " cold mutton " was, I doubt not, very endurable, 
if he was really reduced to it; the "cutting blocks 
with a razor " points to another more curious, probably 
more painful experience. It is explained by the pre- 
vious lines of the same poem, which describes Burke 
as an orator in the House of Commons, who 

" . . . . . . . Still went on refining, 

And thought of convincing, while they thought of dining." 

How it came to pass that speeches which delight and 
instruct those to whom the topics treated in them are 
comparatively obsolete, should have acted as a dinner- 
bell to those to whom these topics were as full of the 
deepest interest as the Indian Mutiny is to us, has 
been a problem which many have undertaken to solve. 
Some of the solutions are certainly not satisfactory. 
He can scarcely have owed his unpopularity to any 
defects of voice or manner, for Mr. Fox's stammering 
and spluttering are notorious, and yet he was listened 
to with profound attention even by those who most 
disliked his sentiments. It cannot have been that 
Burke was regarded as an adventurer; for that evil 
name belonged with ten times better right to Sheridan, 


who was applauded to the skies. Certainly it was not 
the dryness of his style, for he has a power, such as I 
should think scarcely any speaker in any age or 
country ever possessed, of imparting animation to the 
dullest topics. Nor is Goldsmith's charge of "refining" 
to be taken in the sense which we sometimes give to 
the word. He does not draw hair-breadth distinc- 
tions, or widen his arguments till the purpose of them 
becomes invisible. He never amuses himself or the 
spectators with dancing on the tight-rope, or swallow- 
ing swords, or throwing up balls and catching them, 
He had too much business on hand, and was too much 
in earnest in doing it, to indulge in any mere feats of 
dexterity ; but he did unquestionably refine, so far as 
to demand attention and thought from those who 
never refined. His sentences were not of measured, 
even length, and did not terminate in some high- 
sounding phrase which satisfied the ear, and could be 
at once committed to memory for future use. He 
introduced whatever was necessary to the fulness of 
his statement, or to the elucidation of his argument, 
without considering whether it would serve the pur- 
pose of those who had already determined how they 
should vote, and who only wanted some palatable 
reasons which could make their consciences and their 
constituents understand why they had so determined. 
His very pains therefore to be intelligible procured 
him the fame of being puzzling and wearisome. 

So many explanations and illustrations were needed 
to satisfy his own sense of the greatness of the sub- 


ject, that those who had no sense of its greatness at 
all, who only wanted to dispose of it as quickly as 
they could, were of course irritated. It was very 
fortunate for him if they left him to a few friends and 
the Speaker. Oftentimes they expressed their dislike 
much more energetically ; it was not fit that so trouble- 
some a man should make himself audible at all the 
scraping of their own feet was much more agreeable 
to them than his voice. Such facts should be recorded 
for the warning and the comfort of the times to come, 
and it should be remembered also that many who 
joined in scraping down the Irish adventurer who had 
come to disturb their peace, began before the end 
of his life to think that his words, whether understood 
or not, were the best protectors of them and their 

I need not say much of the second of the pamphlets 
to which I referred, which was an answer to one by 
Mr. George Grenville, though it is a valuable document 
for the history of the early part of the reign of George 
III., and though it shows how passing topics may be 
always made interesting to after-times, when they are 
connected with permanent principles. But I ought 
not to pass over another essay, also on an apparently 
temporary subject, which is named " Thoughts on the 
Cause of the Present Discontents." It was written in 
the year 1770, ten years after the accession of the 
Sovereign. It especially refers to the scheme of govern- 
ment which he was said to have adopted. He was 
supposed to bestow his confidence, not on his responsi- 


ble Ministers, but upon a set of persons called " King's 
friends," who belonged to no school or party, who had no 
political maxims whatever, who merely represented the 
private feelings of the Court, and selected, overthrew, 
and reconstructed administrations accroding to their 
pleasure. It was a strong conviction of the danger of 
this sort of government which led Burke to main- 
tain the use and worth of recognized parties. The 
" Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents " 
is the best apology for parties, I suppose, that was ever 
written. It should be read with the commentary 
which the life of the author supplies to it. With 
the strongest conviction that every man ought to 
belong to some party, with a clearer understanding 
than almost any man of the party to which it was his 
calling to attach himself, he nevertheless was the 
instrument at one time of bringing the most opposite 
parties into union; and at another of dividing that 
with which for years he had been associated. I am 
not going to enter into the right and wrong of either 
of these courses, but I think they show us very clearly, 
first, that this party is not so practical a thing as it 
seems to be, since the man who could justify it best 
in writing, was obliged to abandon it in fact; and 
secondly, that there must be some more sacred and 
divine obligation than this of party, otherwise the 
man who was most conscientiously, and with the most 
serious purpose, devoted to one, and who had most 
pursued principle in all his political arrangements, 
would scarcely have been the most remarkable in- 

320 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i. 

stance on record, and that not once only but repeatedly, 
of one who breaks loose from those parties. 

Perhaps the next subject which we encounter in 
looking through Burke's writings, may show us what 
obligations those were, to which all petty considera- 
tions about factions must, in a mind like his, have 
been subordinate. He is now engaged in questions 
about the relation of two worlds. All the knowledge 
which he had acquired respecting the English settle- 
ments in North America, whilst he was a mere literary 
workman, was now needed to illustrate the obligations 
which the mother country owed to the finest and most 
full-grown of her children; by what arts she might 
expect to receive back love and obedience from her 
offspring. I use this language because Burke never 
regarded it as merely figurative language never re- 
sorted to it merely to turn a period. The great value 
of all his speeches before and during the American 
War, is, I apprehend, this, that he treats relations be- 
tween countries as if they were no less real than the 
relations between individuals, as if they too involved 
affections and duties which could not be stifled or ne- 
glected without injury to one side as well as the other. 

His statesmanship therefore rises above petty maxims 
such as men resort to who think that suspicion is the 
great law of life, and that the more advantages you can 
take of your neighbour, the better it is for yourself. The 
highest policy is shown to be the most humane policy, 
the profoundest wisdom is the most trusting wisdom. 
You are sure to go wrong if you tie yourself by artificial 


rules, and ask whether this or that act falls within the 
letter of them, instead of considering what it is that we 
expect from others, and therefore what it is that we 
ought to give them. This application of maxims, which 
we allow to be generous and wise in the intercourse 
between man and man, to the transactions between a 
nation and its colonies, strikes one at first as so simple, 
so obvious, that we scarcely venture to call a man a 
profound statesman who adopts it. And yet, may not 
these be the deepest politics, after all ? May not the 
shallow politics be those which are made up of trick 
and diplomacy ? May not they be always supplying 
new illustrations of the divine maxim, that " lying lips 
are but for a moment " ? And may not the men who 
recur to plain homely laws of honesty and justice be 
taking us to the very foundations of things, of the laws 
which God Himself has established for His world ? 

Burke was aware of all the complications of modern 
life, of all the excuses which those complications supply 
for a tortuous system of action. But he had arrived at 
a deliberate conviction from the study of history and 
the observation of his own time, that the more intricate 
all our relations to each other are, the more the evil 
deeds of us and of our fathers have perplexed them, the 
more wise and necessary it is not to confute them by 
fresh falsehoods, but to unravel them by letting in the 
light of a higher truth upon them. What I once heard 
a benevolent physician say of a madman, " Be sure you 
speak only the most direct truth to him ; poor fellow, 
his mind is confused enough already with his own false 


impressions," is just the doctrine which Burke was 
preaching to the artificial world of the eighteenth cen- 
tury. We are embarrassed enough with the plots, and 
schemes, and petty arts we have dabbled in ; we have 
tried that road long enough ; let us see whether a little 
plain dealing may not serve us better. It was not, as 
I have said already, that he wanted to return to any 
imaginary age of gold; he believed in no such age. 
He did not wish to get rid of trade and commerce, that 
he might restore pastoral or agricultural simplicity; 
he accepted trade and commerce as gifts of God, the 
laws of which are to be carefully pondered. He 
believed that in one time just as much as another, in 
one subject just as much as another, we are bound by 
laws which we did not make, which we cannot set 
aside, > and that if we try to repeal them, and set up 
our own poor maxims in the place of them, they will 
avenge themselves upon us. 

The morality which he had enforced in his speeches 
during the American war, he was called to exhibit in 
his own case in the year 1780, when he appeared before 
his constituents of the city of Bristol to explain his 
conduct to them, and to ask for a renewal of their con- 
fidence. They had chosen him first in the year 1774. 
At that time he had used language which I think it is 
not quite unfitting to read to you at this time. His 
colleague had expressed his wish to receive instructions 
from the electors as to his course of conduct, and his 
intention of conforming to them. Mr. Burke told them 
that he could do no such thing : " Certainly, gentlemen, 


it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representa- 
tive, to live in the strictest union, the closest corre- 
spondence, and the most unreserved communication 
with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have 
great weight with him ; their opinion high respect ; 
their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to 
sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfaction, to 
theirs ; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer 
their interests to his own. But, his unbiassed opinion, 
his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he 
ought not to sacrifice to you ; to any man, or to any 
set of men living. These he does not derive from your 
pleasure ; no, nor from the law and constitution. 
They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of 
which he is deeply answerable. Your representative 
owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment ; 
and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices 
it to your opinion. My worthy colleague says, his 
will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, 
the thing is innocent. If government were a matter 
of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought 
to be superior. But government and legislation are 
matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination : 
and, what sort of reason is that, in which the deter- 
mination precedes the discussion ; in which one set of 
men deliberate, and another decide ; and where those 
who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred 
miles distant from those who hear the arguments ? 

" To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men ; that 
of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, 

324 EDMUND BURKE. [xi. 

which a representative ought always to rejoice to 
hear ; and which he ought always most seriously to 
consider. But authoritative instructions ; mandates 
issued, which the member is bound blindly and im- 
plicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though 
contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment 
and conscience : these are things utterly unknown to 
the laws of this land, and which arise from a funda- 
mental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our 

" Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from 
different and hostile interests ; which interests each 
must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other 
agents and advocates : but Parliament is a deliberative 
assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the 
whole ; where, not local purposes ; not local prejudices 
ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from 
the general reason of the whole. You choose a Mem- 
ber indeed ; but when you have chosen him, he is not 
Member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament. 
If the local constituent should have an interest, or 
should form a hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the 
real good of the rest of the community, the Member 
for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from 
any endeavour to give it effect." 

Well ! he had given them this notice of the principle 
upon which he intended to act; but, as might have 
been expected, when he did act upon it they were 
offended. He had injured their trade, the merchants 
of Bristol thought, by his votes on the American War, 


and by supporting an Act for relieving debtors from 
the cruel imprisonment to which they were then sub- 
jected, and by some important measures connected 
with Ireland. He had offended their prejudices in 
other ways, and he had been too busy in his parlia- 
mentary work to pay them as many visits as they had 
supposed were due from a representative. Upon some 
of these points he had already explained himself in the 
course of the Session of Parliament in a Letter addressed 
to a Gentleman in Bristol, and to the Sheriff of Bristol, 
letters which you will find in his works, and which 
are full of instruction. But he made his completest 
defence in a speech delivered just before the election. 
That speech, I do think, was the bravest and the 
wisest ever addressed to an assembly of Englishmen. 
Would that our younger statesmen might read it again 
and again, till they have, in the true sense of the phrase, 
learnt it by heart ! I must not indulge in extracts, 
for I should not know where to begin or where to end. 
I will read only these sentences : " I became unpopular 
in England for ' one of these acts,' in Ireland for the 
other. What, then ! What obligation lay on me to 
be popular ? I was bound to serve both kingdoms ; 
to be pleased with my service was their affair, not 

The citizens of Bristol were not pleased with this 
service ; they dismissed him. He was returned, how- 
ever, for another place to that Parliament. The 
measures of his friends prevailed in it. Lord North 
abandoned the Administration, the Marquis of Rock- 

326 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i. 

ingham was again Prime Minister. Mr. Burke became 
Paymaster-General of the Forces. In that office he 
would have accomplished the scheme of economical 
reform which he had proclaimed in a speech he had 
delivered two years before. But Lord Rockingham 
died, and Lord Shelburne succeeded him. Mr. Burke 
believed that the old scheme of ruling by Court in- 
fluence was about to be resumed by the connivance of 
this Minister. To counteract it he urged on, if he did 
not propose, a coalition between Mr. Fox and Lord 
North. This was one of the occasions, to which I 
alluded, on which Burke disturbed those party rela- 
tions which he deemed so important, and bore wit- 
ness that they can at best be only means to an end. 
Whether he took the right way of accomplishing the 
end is another question ; I said at the beginning of my 
lecture that I was far from thinking that he passed 
unhurt through the conflicts of factions. I hoped that 
we might learn from his biography what are the great 
and what are the little transactions in which public 
men are engaged ; what are their own greatnesses and 
littlenesses. If we compare the events in which the 
Old and the New World are equally interested with 
these squabbles about Lord Shelburne, and Mr. Fox, 
and Lord North, how beggarly these last appear ! If 
we compare Burke himself returning from Bristol in 
1780, with Burke the organizer of a new party in 1783, 
how great he looks in the hour of defeat, how poor in 
the hour of success ! It is no little satisfaction to 
remember that that hour of success did not last long. 


The Fox and North Ministry was broken up. Mr. 
Pitt became Premier, and Burke continued out of 
office for the rest of his life. 

One great occupation of these later years he entered 
upon while he was connected with the Ministry. He 
had given his mind to the relation of England with her 
Colonies in the West. When she was separated from 
them, he devoted himself as vigorously to her relations 
with that mighty empire in the East which had been 
won by her soldiers and was ruled by her merchants. 
This subject has become to us one of such deep and 
awful interest, that I have scarcely courage to speak of 
it merely as illustrating the life of an individual man. 
And one may rejoice that among the solemn and ter- 
rible associations which the name of India awakens in 
every one of us at this moment, we may quite forget 
all the bitter animosities and Court intrigues which 
gathered about the Bills of Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt ; all 
that was merely personal in the prosecution of Warren 
Hastings. We may rejoice still more, though not 
without trembling, to believe that some of the allega- 
tions which we read in Burke's speeches about the 
British rule in India allegations, it is to be feared, 
derived from only too accurate knowledge some of 
his comparisons of the older government which had 
supplanted it, would have been retracted if he had had 
the experience of another seventy or eighty years. But 
the substantial part of these speeches remains, after all 
these deductions, a study and warning for the English 
statesman and the Englishman, which now less than 

328 EDMUND BURKE. [ X i. 

ever he can afford to forget. It was the greatest 
honour and glory of Burke's life, that which raised 
his politics so far above the level of ordinary politics, 
that . he was awake himself, that he did strive to 
awaken his countrymen, to a sense of the tremendous 
responsibility under which the possession of such an 
empire laid us; to a sense of the misery which we 
should bring upon ourselves and our institutions if we 
ever regarded races and nations as articles of merchan- 
dise. If there had not been some who took this 
measure of our duties when they first devolved upon 
us, could India have received any of the blessings 
which we boast of having conferred upon her ? If we 
had been generally aroused to the sense of our obliga- 
tions, should we have needed a plague of fire and of 
blood to tell us that no one of us can any longer deny 
his share of the guilt or of the penalty ? 

I have left myself no time for speaking of the last 
eleven years of Burke's life, and of that series of his 
works which opens with his "Reflections upon the 
French Revolution." It is better that I should have 
done so, for there is comparatively little difference of 
opinion in this day about his conduct in the American 
War. There is a general disposition to acknowledge 
that he did good service ultimately, if not immediately, 
to India. But a thousand questions arise respecting 
his views of the events in France, which are mixed 
with all the controversies and heats of our own age. 
The little which I shall say upon this subject will be 
for the purpose of illustrating the character of the 


man, and for the further purpose, which I have kept 
before me throughout this lecture, of showing how we 
may profit by his wisdom, even if we have fallen upon 
times which require a higher guidance than that which 
he can give us, and if we have had some experience 
which may enable us to correct the conclusions which 
he deduced from his. It is notorious that his opinions 
respecting the French Revolution separated him from 
some of the friends to whom he had been most attached, 
especially from the one upon whom he had bestowed 
so splendid a panegyric in his speech on the Indian 
Bill. " Thus ended,' (this is his own pathetic narra- 
tive of che separation, in the " Annual Register,") " thus 
ended a friendship which had lasted a quarter of a 
century. The House proceeded to the order of the 
day, and shortly afterwards adjourned." Though he 
wished to restore what he called the old Whig party, 
he did in fact prove the great render and confounder 
of parties. Nevertheless I think that anyone who 
observes that characteristic of his speeches respecting 
America which I have dwelt upon, I mean his asser- 
tion that there are actual relations existing between 
nations and between all the orders in a particular 
nation, and that the whole happiness of society de- 
pends upon the acknowledgment of these relations 
and upon the fulfilment of the mutual duties which 
they involve, will not wonder or think him inconsis- 
tent if he complained of a Revolution which seemed to 
him to set aside all relations, to reduce society into its 
original elements, and to rebuild it upon the assertion 

330 EDMUND BURKE. [xi. 

of individual rights, not of obligations. It seems to 
me that in protesting against the voluntary adoption 
of such a system, he was doing a great service to every 
country, most of all to the toiling and suffering people 
of every country. He was asserting a principle which 
they can the least afford to part with ; since every 
wrong that has been done to them has arisen from the 
forge tfulo ess of it. He was right, I think, to say that 
our English Constitution is precious, because it asserts 
the obligations and responsibilities of the different 
portions of society to each other, and that it never can 
be expanded or improved by setting up any maxim 
which makes one class or another suppose that it has 
a power which can break through them. Where he 
seems to me to have failed, is in not sufficiently recog- 
nizing the width and the depth of these assertions. If 
it is true that society is constituted of these mutual 
relations and obligations, then we must look upon 
every dissolution of society as a divine sentence and 
judgment upon the indifference or contempt of them. 
The agents may have worked blindly, often madly. 
Their blindness and their madness were themselves 
parts of the sin for which the Judge of all was calling 
those who had the means of opening their eyes and 
making them sane, to give account. The sufferings 
which they produced may well make us tender and 
charitable to 'the sufferers. But they must not tempt 
us, as I think they did very naturally tempt Burke, to 
overlook the enormous corruptions and the frightful 
heartlessness which could have no other catastrophe 


than this, and which, if they had been allowed to 
fester undisturbed, would have been immeasurably 
more fatal than any such catastrophe. Nor can I 
help feeling very strongly that Burke, because he did 
not judge the sins of the passing age with sufficient 
severity, looked upon the coming age with far too little 
hope. He took, it seems to me, a truer measure of the 
greatness of the events in which he was moving than 
any of the men about him of either school. He saw 
that the results of these events could not be calculated 
by the horoscopes of ordinary politicians. He felt that 
it was an utter mistake to apply phrases that were 
borrowed from old classical times, or from English his- 
tory, to the French movement. He saw that that was 
not what is called a constitutional movement in any 
sense of that word; that it was not an attempt to 
recover any of the old traditions or principles of French 
society ; that it was a violent defiance of them all. He 
did not see that it might be an effort to assert that 
there is an order for human beings, a fellowship for 
men simply as men, which constitutional maxims are 
by their very nature too limited, too national, to up- 
hold. He did not see that there was no necessary con- 
tradiction between such a human, such a universal 
fellowship, and those national institutions of which 
no one understood the worth so well as himself. He 
did not see that through tremendous conflicts, through 
efforts at a universal anarchy or at a universal des- 
potism, God might design to show us at last what the 
true human society is, and how all particular societies 

332 EDMUND BURKE. [xi. 

may attain their own highest growth and fruitfulness 
in the light of it. Because, with all his gift of pro- 
phesying evils which were certainly to come, he could 
not perceive this good which might be lying behind 
them,he was not always able, I think, to understand even 
that past history which he had explored so diligently. 
With all his honesty and nobleness, he could not quite 
think that the preservation of the order of the world 
was not in some degree owing to the tricks and contri- 
vances of statesmen, even though he had continual 
and painful experience how much they were contri- 
buting to increase its disorders. He could not do 
justice to the piety of the men of our Revolution whom 
he admired most, a piety which rose above their own 
narrow conceptions as well as the poor theories of their 
opponents. He could not think that they entirely 
meant what they said, that God put down those who 
had broken their obligations to Him. He thought it 
was a seemly and beautiful phrase, not the utterance 
of an everlasting truth. I believe that those times, at 
the coming of which he trembled with a natural and 
reasonable fear, with the fear of a man who under- 
stood that they were to be most awful, who did not 
understand that the more awful they were, the more 
they bore witness of the guidance of Him in whom all 
awe dwells, were to teach us that no seemly phrases 
which mean nothing, can stand the shock of a mighty 
crisis ; but that such a crisis may bring to light that 
which lay hidden and half-dead beneath them, may 
bring us face to face with realities to which they 


pointed. I believe that all history has become more 
grave, and terrible, and full of significance, since that 
time, because the present has become more grave and 
terrible also ; but, that if we have faith to look upon 
both, to see in each the interpretation of the other, we 
shall not shrink from the thought of the future, because 
it must compel us to meet the whole problem of human 
society, because it must compel us to seek for a divine 
solution of that problem. 

Burke died in the year 1797 ; he belongs emphati- 
cally to the last age. He left no successor, as he once 
dreamt that he might, who should maintain his prin- 
ciples and support his name in the coming age. He 
died childless. It was the loss of his son, on whom he 
had looked with an affection which belonged to his 
character, with an exaggerated admiration which was 
a most pardonable exercise of his fancy, which struck 
the final blow to his spirit as well as to his body. There 
is no decline of intellectual power in his later works. 
His eloquence perhaps reaches its highest point in 
them ; but there is the irritation and despondency 
which I have endeavoured to account for. There is 
the lesson to us, that each man has his appointed work 
to do, that more than that work he cannot do ; that if 
he does it as ever in his great Taskmaster's eye, the 
times to come may bless his memory and give thanks 
for his wisdom ; but that we are not to expect from 
men past, present, or coming, that which we may look 
for and shall find in Him who is, and was, and is to 


I HAVE been reflecting upon some phrases which most 
of us adopt almost without knowing that we adopt 
them, and which, it seems to me, have done no little 
harm to our studies. We are apt to draw our language 
respecting knowledge from that which of right belongs 
to property. We talk of transmitting knowledge as 
we talk of transmitting lands from father to son. 
We talk of acquiring knowledge as we talk of acquir- 
ing money. Perhaps it scarcely occurs to you it 
often does not occur to me that these are metaphor- 
ical or artificial expressions. They have become so 
worked into our speech that we suppose they are just 
as applicable to learning as they are to houses or to 
the funds. And I am far from denying that they 
have a good sense. I should be very sorry to 
banish them altogether. There is a most important 
principle involved in the doctrine that a father may 
leave intellectual treasures to his sons as well as 

1 Part of a New Year's Address to the Pupils of some of the 
Classes at the Working Men's College. 1863. 


material treasures. There is an important truth in the 
saying, that knowledge, like bread, is to be acquired 
by the sweat of the brow. I would keep up the 
recollection of these facts by occasionally using these 
familiar expressions, because, if we destroy the con- 
nection between knowledge and property, we shall 
make property and all that has to do with it more 
sordid and base. I would say to the rich man, " There 
is something in this language which is worth your 
remembering." But I would say to him also, " There 
is a better and nobler language than this ; one which 
tells us what it cannot tell us. The poor man, if you 
will listen to him, will teach you that language." 
What is that language ? A man goes out to his work, 
say at six or seven on a January morning ; the same 
miracle occurs every twenty-four hours. The streets 
are dark, only made more dismal by a few gas lamps 
which are gradually put out. The sun appears ; there 
is a light upon his path ; the light is upon all the 
houses and shops amidst which he is walking. The 
light may not be mixed with much warmth on these 
wintry days ; but he knows there is warmth as well as 
light there for him, and for all who are out in these 
streets; for all England, for countries utterly unlike 
England. Light has been associated with knowledge 
has been the symbol of the way in which men come 
to know, in all regions and in all ages. Is it not the 
natural, the true symbol ? If we take those that are 
derived from property in change for it, do not you 
think we shall suffer greatly? For see what the 


difference is ! If knowledge comes to us as light comes 
to us, it can never be third-hand or second-hand know- 
ledge. The sun is very, very old ; but he is new to me 
every time I welcome him. He is still the bridegroom 
fresh from his chamber. He is not the least worn or 
tarnished because my ancestors of the generations of 
old rejoiced at the sight of him. And again, it does 
not the least interfere with the illumination which I 
receive from him, that tens of thousands of others are 
illuminated by him at the same instant. I have, no 
doubt, acquired the illumination if you mean I am 
the better for it. I have not acquired it the least, if 
you mean that I can claim it as mine to the injury or 
exclusion of any other creature. And as to imparting 
or diffusing it, what I can do in that way is to invite 
all I know to leave their close houses and enjoy it with 
me ; or to let it into their houses when that is possible. 
If I take any other course than that, I shall not diffuse 
light, but perhaps darkness. 

You may think me perverse for insisting so strongly 
upon the distinction between these two forms of ex- 
pression, each of which I allow, within due limits, to 
be reasonable. But I cannot tell you how much I 
think is involved in it. I believe that your tasks 
in each one of your class-rooms will be fruitful or 
barren in proportion as you remember or forget it. I 
will go with you from one to the other that you may 
see whether your experience confirms or refutes mine. 

I cannot begin better than with your Drawing-classes. 
Those who have studied in those classes have a great 


excuse for using the words with which I appear to be 
finding fault. They do, I am satisfied, acquire a great 
power of using their hands, and directing their pencils. 
They acquire a faculty of observing, which they had 
not before they came here. No one has less right than 
I have to dispute that these are peculiar gifts, since I 
can put in a singularly little claim to either. And it 
is equally true that these gifts are not new powers. 
Men, in other days, have had them. Hints have been 
left for the exercise of them, which may warrant us in 
saying that they have been transmitted to us. All 
this is true. And yet when I go into your rooms, it is 
not for these I envy you ; it is that those leaves which 
you are copying have actually discovered to you their 
cunning workmanship, their secret beauty. It is that 
human faces have told you a little of the wonder that 
is in them. I rejoice that you can express with your 
pencils something of what they have said to you ; that 
you can help us to understand them a little. A light 
has burst upon you, which shows you those forms and 
colours, with which you have been familiar so long. 
The old things have not changed their own nature, but 
they have become new to you. You like them all the 
better because they are the same that you have had 
with you since you were children. You may indeed 
have a desire kindled in you to see the places of which 
you have only heard. In the midst of close streets you 
may dream of mountains and lakes, and wish to come 
in contact with them, that they may be facts, not 
dreams, in your minds. It is well to have your horizon 


so enlarged; but it is better still that within that 
horizon, so many things start into life which were 
almost dead. In each case you have found how truly 
knowledge is an unveiling of that which is, and of that 
which is common. If you have been at ever so much 
pains in seeking it, when it has come you have said, 
" There it is ! Something that was hidden has shown 
itself to me. More that is hidden will show itself to 
me. My eye may be feeble, but it can take in marvel- 
lous things. If I am permitted to make any likeness 
of them, how faint it must be ! Yet what a blessing 
that there is this way of leading others to share my 
perceptions, to enter into my joy ! " 

I speak with the greater pleasure and confidence of 
this subject, notwithstanding my ignorance of it, be- 
cause this has been the kind of feeling which your 
art-teachers have especially laboured to cultivate in 
you. Whether they have directed you to the human 
figure or to trees and flowers whatever methods they 
may have deemed the best the object of them all, if 
I understand them rightly, has been that you should 
see things as they are. They have no notion that you, 
or that they, can improve the works of God. They 
are not content that you should merely carry away, or 
represent, certain vague impressions of yours about 
those works. Whatever object, small or great, you 
copy, they would have you try to get a glimpse of 
what that object means. The object, and not your 
acquirements, is what they would have you exhibit ; 
therefore they supply me with the best illustrations 


I could find of the doctrine which I am enforcing 

My next shall be taken from one of our studies which 
I have, if possible, a still greater interest in describing 
as a peculiar treasure, which only a few can be expected 
by great diligence or luck to obtain. I speak of 
that one which for a while you neglected as too noisy 
for your other occupations, but which the zeal and 
science of one of your best friends has at last natu- 
ralized among you. He recommended to you the 
method of instruction which has been adopted, on the 
ground of its universality. Its merit in his eyes was, 
that it was for the many, not for the few. Do you 
think that in saying so he degraded the art, for the 
honour of which he must be especially jealous ? He 
seemed to me to be showing his deep reverence for it, 
to be asserting claims on its behalf which those who 
boast of it as their own and refuse it to the people are 
denying. If Music thus becomes a common language, 
it must have all the glory which those who have loved 
it best and understood it most have felt to be in it. 
It must be deeper than our ordinary speech. However 
many may be the different forms which it has put on 
among different races, suitable to the tempers and 
habits of those races, it cannot be limited by these ; it 
must be the sign that all are alike men ; it must be the 
attempt if as yet only an imperfect attempt to 
express that which is human, that which binds us 
together. I am sure there must be such an expression 
as this is ; I am sure of it all the more, when I feel how 


little it is an articulate expression for me ; when I am 
most compelled to say that I have only the faintest 
dream of its signification. 

And therefore I am sure that all musical teaching 
must be a discovery ; that it should make known to 
the humblest man relations between him and his 
fellows. I cannot disbelieve, though I may be utterly 
unable to comprehend, anything which musicians have 
told us of the inner harmonies of which they have 
been made conscious. The beautiful sympathies, the 
clear pure lives, of such men as Felix Mendelssohn, of 
such women as Mrs. Goldschmidt, should awaken in 
us much more than an admiration of them, though that 
may be most cordial. We should hail them as wit- 
nesses, that those who have most of what is called 
musical acquirement, are those who most regard it as 
a bond to all their suffering brothers and sisters. We 
should assure ourselves that every divine gift to indi- 
viduals is precious only as it unites them more with 
their kind. 

The transition from this elevated form of human 
speech to the languages of particular countries is a very 
easy one ; for you can scarcely begin to study any lan- 
guage without finding yourself listening to some of the 
songs that have been sung in it. Almost every lan- 
guage has been cradled in song, if it has not been born 
in song. When people have learnt to utter more than 
mere animal cravings when they have felt that they 
had fellowship with each other, music has somehow 
joined itself to words ; they have come forth together. 


Why do I use such a vague, awkward phrase as 
" somehow ? " Because I cannot tell you the how, and 
I do not know that anyone can. The more one con- 
siders the origin of speech, the more profoundly mys- 
terious it seems. The greatest philologers do not clear 
away the mystery ; the greater they are, the more they 
make you aware of it. They lead you further and 
further into the heart of it; they try to make you per- 
ceive what relation each language has to every other ; 
they convince you that there must be some fellowship 
between them all ; some centre to which they all turn. 
As they trace the growth of each distinct stock or 
stem, you feel, as Mr. Max Miiller said in his lectures 
at the Royal Institution, that you are studying facts 
which correspond to the facts of nature ; though they 
concern men so nearly, you cannot resolve them into 
contrivances or arrangements of human skill ; you can 
never find the place where, or the time when, certain 
men met and agreed to call things by certain names. 
Words grow out of certain roots as much as trees grow ; 
their different meanings expand themselves as the 
leaves of a tree expand themselves. We have not to 
do here with the general conclusions of men who have 
given their study to the Science of Language as such. 
You go to particular classes for the study of French, or 
Latin, or German, or English. It is far better to do so. 
Our great philologists would urge you to do so; for 
they have arrived at universal principles through the 
special facts which have been discovered to them in 
the examination of one or another language, and in com- 


paring two or more together. And I think these great 
men would say to you, "Do not fancy that you can 
acquire a language any language whatever. It is 
too big a thing for any man to acquire." You cer- 
tainly will have no leisure to do that. But if the 
language has been spoken by men such as you are by 
your fellow-creatures it may show you truths which 
you did not know before; truths concerning those 
men, truths concerning yourselves. A light flashes 
out of a word sometimes which frightens one. If it is 
a common word of our own tongue, one wonders how 
one has dared to use it so frequently and so carelessly, 
when there were such meanings hidden in it; such 
beautiful treasures or such dangerous materials as 
might explode, and scatter mischief all around. If it is a 
word of another tongue, one is struck with its likeness 
to some word that occurs in our e very-day intercourse. 
Whence arises the resemblance ? How can we trace 
it ? If we can trace it a good way, each new link 
suggests a fresh wonder ; a multitude of other words 
and other meanings, we find, are either of the same 
family originally, or have been married into it. Then 
comes the question How did these words meet to- 
gether? How do they shape themselves into a sen- 
tence ? Certainly there seems no hazard in it. They 
must follow each other in a certain order ; they must 
behave themselves to each other with a certain decency 
and respect. It is very strange, this grammar. I find 
it wherever I go. German, French, Latin, English, they 
have all got it. Differences, great differences, there are 


between them ; but yet how much in common ! How 
much must be in each which is also in the other ! 
At first there seems something baffling, almost over- 
whelming, in such reflections. 

A mere acquirer, indeed, is not struck by them at all. 
If you speak of them to him, he says which is very 
true that you are merely uttering commonplaces. 
But commonplaces are more worthy to be thought of 
than rarities. The secrets of our life lie hid in them. 
Never, therefore, slight them. These which concern 
the derivation of words, and their connection in sen- 
tences, never grow old. There may be a number of 
new theories about them, but the facts are richer and 
wider than the theories ; the theories are chiefly good 
because they bring facts to light which have been 
overlooked. Into whatever language class you go, 
facts will present themselves to you which will make 
your ordinary speech a much more sacred speech to 
you. Those who are in the Latin class will find what 
close links there are between the London citizen of 
1863, and the Koman in the time of Julius Csesar; 
how much their speech and thoughts have affected 
ours. Those in the German class will find themselves 
still nearer the roots of that speech and those thoughts ; 
while yet they will find that there must be deeper 
roots beneath. The French teacher will show you 
how many affinities and how many differences there 
are between the exquisite instrument for intercourse 
which he possesses, and the one which we use ; every- 
where you will be reminded of home by what you see 


abroad. And if you stay at home and keep to the 
English Language Class, you will have a number of 
discoveries made to you, which will show you what 
myriads more are still to be made. 

A pedant, whose character is admirably drawn in a 
drama with which your German teacher will have 
made some of you acquainted, exclaims, as he leaves 
his sorrowful and discontented teacher, who thinks he 
has been merely stuffing himself with words, " Now 
know I much, yet hope I to know much more." That 
is the proper natural tone of the acquirer. " A light 
has reached me which has shown me a little of my 
own ignorance a little of the wonderful nature which 
God has given me. Let me have more light, that I 
may perceive how much less I know than I seem to 
know." In that form the thankfulness and the desires 
of the true learner express themselves. 

I ought not to leave the subject of Words without 
alluding to another subject which has been set before 
some of you in these class-rooms. Logic is derived from 
the Greek name for " word." Its etymology may easily 
mislead us, yet no one who is entering upon the study 
ought to forget it. Only a creature who uses words has 
anything to do with logic. Shakespeare speaks of mere 
animals as " wanting discourse of reason." That is to 
say, they do not connect thoughts together ; they have 
not the power of communicating thoughts to each other. 
That, he regards, as the prerogative of a man. Now 
everyone who exercises this prerogative is, whether he 
is aware of it or not, a logician. He conforms to cer- 


tain rules ; he follows a certain order in his discourse ; 
otherwise he would not be understood ; he would con- 
vey no sense to the man he conversed with. To find 
out what these rules are to learn this order is the 
work of the student of logic. To help him in this task, 
to show him what perceptions one or another man has 
had of these rules and this order ; that is the work of 
the teacher. You see that here, as elsewhere, we are 
engaged about that which is common to human beings ; 
we are learning, not what some may do and others not, 
but what must be true about us all. 

The man who knows all the rules and maxims of 
Logic is not the least above the rest of his species ; he 
has only begun to understand a little of that which 
connects him with his species. And if he loses sight 
of that fact if he fancies he has got hold of a great 
art or trick which gives him an advantage over other 
men, I do not hesitate to say that he falls below them. 
He becomes more foolish than other men, for his feet 
may become entangled in his own nets ; he may spin 
endless webs about himself which he cannot break 
through. He becomes more wicked than other men, 
for he may use his craft to perplex them ; to make the 
worse appear the better reason. Ultimately I think 
the folly and the wickedness meet. The wise man is 
taken in his own craftiness ; he is found to be a self- 
deceiver as well as a deceiver of others. Logic has 
often got a bad name from both these causes. It has 
been suspected of being mere child's play. It has been 
suspected of being a scheme for imposing upon plain 


men. If it is looked upon as a mere acquirement, it 
may be either. If it is looked upon as a discovery of 
laws which we are all meant to obey, it may often save 
us from wasting our time in child's play, it may be a 
protection against many impostures. 

This remark leads me to studies which have been 
more pursued here than logic has ever been ; as, for my 
own part, I should wish them to be. They are included 
in the general name Mathematics a very beautiful 
and instructive name, seeing that it is derived from 
the word for learning, and that it indicates the position 
of those who are seeking Science to be always the posi- 
tion of learners. It is that which has made geometry 
a keen delight to a number of earnest and faithful 
men. They have felt that they were learning step by 
step some of the laws of the earth upon which they 
were moving ; some principles which, being ascer- 
tained as true in one case, are true in all cases. 
Arithmetic, in like manner, has had a great charm for 
them, as they have learned that the numbers with 
which they were dealing in the most ordinary calcu- 
lations were not mere instruments or devices for 
calculations ; that they are contrived on profound 
principles; that men in all times and places find 
them, and do not make them. If these studies are 
treated as acquirements, men may become self-exalted 
and stupefied also by their acquaintance with 
forms and with numbers. They may lose their relish 
for their study of the facts of nature, because they 
cannot reduce them under their measures, or confine 


them by their lines. They may be incapable of 
examining the deeds of men ; may complain that men 
are so troublesome, and do such a number of acts 
which they cannot account for, that if they would only 
cease to be free and to think, something might be 
made of them. But the true mathematician that is, 
the true learner has had his mind opened and pre- 
pared to receive the teachings which come to him 
from every part of the universe. He will not demand 
of the botanist that flowers should not grow, or of the 
geologist that he should find no changes in the struc- 
ture of the earth, or of the physiologist that he should 
not investigate all the signs of life in the human body, 
all its varieties of disease ; he will listen to all they 
tell him, and like them all the better for the mysteries 
which he cannot fathom ; only believing that there 
is an order and harmony in them all, and expecting 
that their order and harmony will one day be made 

That is the spirit in which I trust you will frequent 
any of those classes which deal with natural science, 
or, as we sometimes call it, physical science, the science 
of those things which are born, and which grow. If 
you come to acquire any of these sciences, you will 
sometimes be puffed up with a vain assurance which 
will hinder you from receiving any fresh instruction 
from them, any correction of the errors into which you 
have fallen ; you will sometimes be accepting every 
fresh notion as if that must be true, casting away 
everyone you have held hitherto as if that must be 


false; you will sometimes fall into utter despair and 
think that nothing can be ascertained. If you go on 
desiring light though it may come slowly, though it 
may come through much darkness I am satisfied it 
will come. You will be ready for the entrance of 
fresh light you prize dearly that which has been 
granted you ; the sense of your ignorance will be 
always deepening, and with it the security of your 

I say this confidently about these sciences, though I 
am very unfit to speak of them ; for the experience of 
those who have profited most in them goes with me ; 
they will support me and not contradict me. I say it 
with equal confidence about studies into which I have 
entered in a very slight degree those which we some- 
times suppose are made entirely loose and irregular by 
human passions, human taste, and human will. The 
mathematician and the natural philosopher are often 
contrasted with the poet and the man of letters. The 
contrast, I am sure, need not exist, and ought not to 
exist. The English University which is most devoted 
to Mathematics has been the most fertile in poets ; 
some of the most eminent of our literary men in this 
day are intensely attached to physical science. Where 
the opposition between them exists, it arises, I think, 
from the cause which I have pointed out in this lecture. 
Some men try to acquire a great many notions about 
poetical and prose compositions. They try to practise, 
perhaps, a little in that way themselves. They magnify 
their own craft at the expense of every other; they 


scorn what they call the dryness of mathematics the 
cold treatment of Nature and its beauties by the man 
of Science. It is not so with those who come to the 
poet, or to the novel writer, for instruction. They find 
that either of them is good so far as he enables them to 
see more into the meaning and order of Nature, or of 
their own lives ; to understand better what relations 
exist between them and their fellow-creatures. They 
do not care for either, if his diction is ever so fine, if he 
exhibits ever so many of what the wise in such matters 
tell them are the proper characteristics of poetical or 
prose fiction, provided he fails to impart this light. In 
plain words, they do not care for fiction. They like 
Mr. Tennyson, they like Mr. Kingsleyjust as they like 
Mr. Faraday or Mr. Huxley, for telling them truth, not 
for telling them lies. And so the study of what we call 
works of fiction, becomes naturally connected with the 
study of History. The books of an age explain the 
events of an age ; the events of an age help us to under- 
stand what was special in the writers of its books. 
Those who bid us acquire a knowledge of English his- 
tory are greatly divided about the nature of that know- 
ledge, and the way we are to seek for it. Some of them 
point out the importance of mastering facts, and ascer- 
taining when and where they occurred ; some say that 
the facts are in themselves worthless, but that they may 
help us in arriving at some general notions or proposi- 
tions, which may be useful in judging our fellow-crea- 
tures, and in guiding our owri conduct. I cannot tell 
you how much disputing there has been about these 


two methods, and how much time that might be spent 
in learning, we may waste in considering which of them 
is the right one. Those who support the first course call 
the champions of the other very hard names. " They 
put" so their revilers affirm "certain fine specula- 
tions of their own in place of what has actually been 
done, and call it philosophy." These answer by calling 
the reporters pf fact, dry, jejune creatures, who cannot 
discriminate between that which is precious and that 
which is insignificant, but count anything which comes 
to their net good if they only label it a fact. I do not 
like any of these railings, or wish to take part in them; 
though I cannot deny that both have much plausibility. 
And so I am driven back in this case as in all the rest, 
upon my old doctrine. I have no hope of acquiring a 
knowledge of even a small portion of the smallest 
history. But I feel that I want the light which history 
gives me, that I cannot do without it. I find that I 
am connected, in my own individual life, with . a past 
and a future as well as a present. I cannot make out 
either without the other. I find that I am connected 
with a nation which has had a past as well as a present, 
and which must have a future. I am confident that 
our life is meant to be a whole; that its days, as the 
poet says, should be linked each to each in natural 
piety. They fall to pieces very easily; it is hard, 
often it seems impossible, to recover the links between 
them. But there comes an illumination to us ever and 
anon over our past years, and over the persons gone 
out of our sight who worked in them. Places we have 


visited with them, help to bring them back ; to re- 
collect the year and the month and the day is of great 
use, for so the events and the persons are seen, not 
confusedly, but clearly, standing as they actually 
stood. Thus it is with the ages gone by. Every 
one of them is telling upon us ; every man who has 
thought and worked in them has contributed to the 
good or evil which is about us. The ages are not 
dead ; they cannot be. If we listen, they will speak 
to us. 

Times and places will be great helps in understanding 
their voice, as in understanding the voices that come to 
us from our own boyhood and childhood. The death 
of a king may make a crisis in the progress of a nation, 
as the death of a personal friend makes a crisis in our 
own lives. An old town-hall, or the relics that tell ot 
a battle which has once been fought, may be like some 
house or room that reminds us of those from whose lips 
we have learnt, or of some struggle that we have had 
to pass through. The times and places will not in 
themselves be the precious things ; but that which was 
done in them, those who dwelt in them. We shall 
care more for the things than for any propositions 
which we make about them ; for our propositions may 
be very good or wise, but they are limited by the 
minds that form them. A truth is full and living, and 
contains a thousand different lessons, one of which 
may commend itself to one man, one to another, ac- 
cording to his deeds. Each of us may help the other 
to find the lessons which he wants ; but we must not 


put ourselves between him and the truth whence all 
the lessons proceed. 

I have one more subject to speak of. In that German 
play to which I have referred already, the hero laments 
that he has studied Jurisprudence, Medicine, and all 
other arts, and alas ! also THEOLOGY, and that he is just 
as wise as he was before. I doubt not that a man who 
seeks to acquire Jurisprudence, Medicine, or any art, 
will some day be obliged to utter that complaint. I 
am sure that the "alas!" of Dr. Faustus will proceed 
from the soul of the theological student who has 
laboured with that aim. His pursuit must seem 
utterly bewildering, an utter self-contradiction. He 
must feel that he has been making continual efforts to 
attain the unattainable, to grasp the infinite. He must 
regard his study, either as standing aloof from all 
others, condemning them all, or as a chain which is 
to bind them all. 

Just because I believe what I have been saying to 
you this evening respecting other studies, I hold that 
this one condemns none of them, but justifies them 
all is meant not to bind any, but to break its chains. 
When Columbus first caught sight of the land which 
was the reward of years of toil and disappointment, we 
called him the discoverer of America. He would have 
said that America discovered itself to him, or that God 
discovered it to him. A veil was withdrawn, a world 
that Europe was intended to know became known ; it 
was his high honour to say, " There it is ; every one of 
those poor sailors shares the discovery with me. To 


each person who sees that Continent hereafter, it will 
discover itself as it now does to us." That, I under- 
stand, is the fundamental maxim of theology. We 
cannot discover the Eternal and Infinite, but He dis- 
covers Himself, and in discovering Himself helps us to 
see what we are, what our relations to our fellow- 
creatures are, what we are to seek, what we are to 
hate. Because I am convinced that this is so be- 
cause I should despair of myself and you, and of the 
universe, if I thought otherwise therefore I can see a 
meaning, a worth, a sacredness, a hopefulness in every 
pursuit to which you devote yourselves here or else- 
where ; therefore I can trust every New Year will do 
more for you than the last. The assurance of a Reve- 
lation that has been made, of a Revelation that is to be 
made to the whole earth ; this I find the chief comfort 
and encouragement in thinking of your work, or of 
my work, of your little society, or of the whole society 
of human beings. 



IN the year 1801 a periodical was established in Edin- 
burgh which has exercised a considerable influence 
upon the thought and the criticism of this country 
during the last half-century. Those who commenced 
this work took for their motto the words, "The judge 
is condemned when the guilty man is absolved or 
escapes condemnation." They therefore proclaimed 
themselves judges ; their function was to decide 
what writers were deserving of punishment ; on those 
who did, they pledged themselves to inflict it sum- 

It is said, that of the persons who felt themselves 
called to this office, and who formed this determina- 
tion, scarcely one had passed his twenty-first birthday. 
That may appear an early time for men to take their 
seats upon the bench ; yet many of us can recollect 
that at that age, though we might have few or none of 
the gifts which these Edinburgh Reviewers gave ample 
evidence that they possessed, we thought ourselves 
perfectly competent to assume the same position and 
to pass sentence upon the universe. If we did not 

1 A Lecture delivered at the Brighton Athenaeum, 1856, 


think so then, we probably should never have arrived 
at the belief afterwards ; for as we grow older painful 
doubts of our infallibility spring up within ourselves, 
and are encouraged by the persons with whom we 
converse. It now and then occurs to us that perhaps 
the judge is condemned for his severity as well as for 
his leniency, and that he may sometimes mistake an 
innocent man for a guilty one. Nay, the judge may 
even feel that his own office, grand as it is, does not 
quite satisfy his human cravings. He may wish for a 
little sympathy with his fellow -creatures ; he may 
dream that he would be more comfortable if he were 
more on their level, if he stood at least on a not quite 
immeasurable height above them. He would like not 
always to be laying down the law, and to be occasion- 
ally receiving wisdom as well as giving it forth. Such 
desires and regrets begin to be awakened in us about 
that time when, as Young says, a man suspects 
himself a fool, they have ripened considerably by 
that maturer time, when, according to the same 
authority, he knows it. One who was in his youth a 
severe, though certainly, on the whole, a genial critic, 
has said : 

" A something whispers in my heart 

That as we downward tend, 
Lycoris, life requires an art, 

To which our souls must bend ; 
A skill, to balance and supply ; 
And ere the flowing fount be dry, 
As soon it must, a sense to sip 
And drink, with 110 fastidious lip." 

356 ON CRITICS. [xm 

But although great weight is due to this experience, 
it is also true that we may learn more of the tendencies 
of an age from young men than we can from old men. 
These accomplished Edinburgh Reviewers, and other 
reviewers much less accomplished, would not have 
aspired to such great tasks when they were young, and 
would not have produced so much effect, and excited 
so much rivalry, if there had not been a bias in our 
time towards criticism which there never was to the 
same degree in any former time, and which it is not 
possible and therefore, if we admit a Providence over 
the minds of men, which it is not desirable to coun- 
teract. Shakespeare has put into the mouth of his 
worst character the words, " I am nothing if not 
critical." I believe it may be true of the very best 
men of our time that they are nothing if not critical. 
But then I apprehend that they have taken some 
pains with themselves that their criticism shall not 
be of the same kind with lago's that it shall not 
be cold, suspicious, hateful, quickly detecting all that 
is evil in things or in men, very slow in discovering 
the good because there is no wish to discover it. I 
think they must be aware how easily they may slide 
into that lago temper, and must have sought help in 
cultivating that which is the direct contrary of it. In 
what I say to you this evening about critics, my object 
will be to point out, so far as I am able, how we may 
become critics of the one sort, or of the other. It is far 
enough from my intention to say who are of the one 
sort or of the other. I speak of errors which I know 


in myself, much more than any I know of in my 
neighbours. I believe the capacities for both charac- 
ters lie in each of us, and that it is almost certain that 
we shall all of us sink into the one if we do not rise 
into the other. 

The word " critic " unquestionably means , judge. 
The motto of the Edinburgh Reviewers gives it its 
literal force. But if you have been at a criminal trial 
in English courts of justice, and have marked the de- 
meanour of the wisest and most righteous of the men 
who preside in them, I think you will have observed 
that the task of pronouncing sentence, even the task of 
laying down the law for the guidance of the jury, is 
not the greatest or the most difficult which they per- 
form. In our days, at least I do not know how it 
may have been in the more hanging days of our 
fathers the black cap is not regarded by the spec- 
tators, certainly not by him who puts it on, as the most 
worthy or distinctive ensign of his office. Sadly and 
reluctantly he resorts to it at last. Not till he has 
exercised all his higher faculties in discriminating 
between conflicting points of evidence; not till after 
the most patient toil in severing facts from guesses, 
truth from appearances after the most scrupulous 
allowance for unfairness in narrators, and for reasons 
why the act should not have been committed he has 
been driven to the conclusion tha-t it has been com- 
mitted, and that the doer of it is before him. Even 
then, by the provisions of our law, he cannot, as you 
know, take the decision into his own hands. He can 

358 ON CRITICS. [ X in. 

only use the light that has been given him to direct 
the minds of the twelve men who are to try the case ; 
he is at best their mouth-piece. This distinction of 
duties is represented, I think, by the two names for a 
judge in the language from which we have borrowed 
the word " critic." Mr. Grote, in his " History of 
Greece," uses very often the word " Dicast." That 
describes accurately the work which the judge has to 
perform at last ; but his criticism has been exercised 
before. If I am right in these remarks, a critic upon 
any subject whatever whether he speaks of books, or 
art, or men is not to think first or chiefly what judg- 
ments he may pass upon that which he is occupied 
with : he may be a long time before he finds himself 
able to pass a judgment. Perhaps he may be less able 
and less willing to do it after a long consideration than 
he was at the first moment. But he may be cultivat- 
ing his judgment; he may be acquiring a habit of 
discernment which he certainly had not at first, and 
which he will find much more valuable to him for his 
own sake, and for all the business of life, than the 
power of laying down the law respecting books, or 
art, or men, supposing he could have the largest circle 
to listen to his decrees and to accept them, supposing 
he had the power of en-forcing punishments for the 
transgression of his laws, supposing he could cause the 
largest number of men to smart under the rod, or to 
suffer capitally under the axe. I will try to illustrate 
what I have been saying in a few particular cases. I 
will begin with books. I fancy there is nothing we 


more like to exercise our criticism upon than on the 
style of the books that come in our way. I am think- 
ing now chiefly of books in prose ; of poetry I may 
speak a little by and by. Such a style, we pronounce, 
is an affected style, or an un-English style, or an 
unintelligible style, or a pompous style, or a too 
colloquial style, or a style that departs from all good 
models, or a style that is a mere imitation of certain 
models. Some one of these phrases is applied to a 
particular writer, first, perhaps, by some oracle in a 
drawing-room circle, or it may have come forth with 
the anonymous weight of some newspaper. It gets 
quickly into circulation. Then some one rises up 
in defence of the writer. He likes the affected, or the 
un-English, or the irregular, or the imitated style ; 
perhaps he adopts it and exaggerates it. He, too, has 
his set of followers. There are some who listen to his 
decrees ; perhaps he can get them into print. Thus a 
great amount of criticism is abroad ; a number of 
judges are condemning the guilty man, trembling lest 
they should be condemned if he is absolved. But, 
after all, what has been gained ? What real critical 
faculty has one of these judges been exercising ? Those 
epithets which he has bestowed upon the style do not 
tell you in the least what an English style, or a correct 
style, or a true style, is. That secret is hid in the 
heart of the commentator. He may hold up a few 
sentences to ridicule, with a " Look there ! how bad 
that is ! What nonsense this is ! " He may even hint 
what he thinks is the proper model for all people to 

360 ON CEITICS. [Xin. 

follow ; but by saying that, he does not the least help 
us to avoid these faults, if they are faults, or to follow 
the right leader, if he is a right one. He leaves the 
impression upon our minds that he is a standard 
of taste, and that he knows that he is. It is a comfort- 
able conviction certainly, as long as he can retain it ; 
but I cannot see that mankind is in any degree 
improved by his possession of a quality which it seems 
that he is utterly unable to impart. 

Is there, then, to be no criticism of style ? Is there 
no such thing as style ? Do we mean nothing when 
we say that the style of Milton is altogether different 
from the style of Burke ? I apprehend that we do 
mean very much ; just as much as when we say 
that the handwriting of two men is different, or their 
walk, or their voice, or their manners in a room. All 
these are real differences ; some of them, if not all of 
them, are helps to tell us wherein the men differ from 
each other, what is the characteristic peculiarity of 
each. And that is the good which one gets from the 
style of a book. If it is not the expression of what a 
man is, it is absolutely worthless, with whatever rules 
it may be in conformity ; if it is, it is one means of 
getting acquainted with him. It will not tell you all 
you want to know of him, but it will tell you some- 
thing. It may show you, no doubt, his weakness as 
well as his strength ; it may explain to you what he 
cannot do as well as what he can. But, at all events, 
let us try to know what it does say before we proceed 
to classify it, or to pass sentence upon it. It is won- 


derful how much our faculties of discernment will 
grow, and unfold themselves, if we begin by throwing 
all our notions about style overboard, and simply 
come to be taught why this author spoke in this 
way and that in another, why this was significant of 
him and of the time in which he lived, and another 
belonged to a person who lived in a different time and 
who had another work. The process may be a slow 
one we may make no sensible advance in it, we may 
not be able to set down the results to our own satis- 
faction ; but then see how much more interesting the 
process itself is than that for which we exchange it. 
When I am setting myself up as a judge of authors 
for the purpose of condemning the guilty, I shall look 
out for those who are likely to give me most occupa- 
tion by their absurdities. I shall consider that my 
business is with the bad, though I may chance now 
and then to light upon something good. What effect 
must this continual familiarity with what is mean and 
vulgar, with that which I prefer because it is mean 
and vulgar, have upon my own mind? Suppose I 
continue to denounce it, suppose I continue to find a 
delight in denouncing it, must I not insensibly acquire 
its likeness, or else become intolerably conceited be- 
cause I am above it ? But in the other case, I must 
look out for the best and ablest writers, because they 
are the best worth hearing, and because I want their 
styles only to manifest them. I must mix constantly 
with those who will make me ashamed, not proud of 
myself. And I shall at last get more than I sought 

3(32 ON CKITICS. [xm. 

for. The great man is the man who most reflects the 
temper and spirit of his time. Though he will write 
differently from his contemporaries, you may discover 
from him what those contemporaries were, what they 
were thinking, feeling, suffering. I should like to 
give you specimens of what I mean from the two 
authors whom I named casually just now. There are 
no two styles in our language perhaps more unlike 
each other than the style of John Milton and the style 
of Edmund Burke. I will not attempt to express the 
difference in words. You cannot read any paragraph of 
the one, or of the other, without feeling it. And I do 
not think you can read any paragraph of one or of 
the other, whether you agree with it or not whether 
it strikes at some cherished opinion of yours or sup- 
ports one without feeling that it is the genuine, 
noble, natural expression of the mind of a genuine and 
noble man; without feeling that they could not be 
changed for one another or blended together but at 
the peril of both becoming false ; without feeling 
that the one belongs to the England of the seven- 
teenth century, and the other to the England of the 
eighteenth ; without learning how different those two 
periods were ; without feeling that the nation in both 
was the same nation. Let me read you a passage 
from Milton's " Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed 
Printing," and then one from Burke's " Speech to the 
Electors of Bristol," then I think that you will under- 
stand hoAV much the style of an author may teach us 
respecting him, and respecting ourselves, if we do not 


apply to it our narrow measures and tie it down by 
our petty rules of art : 

" I deny not but that it is of greatest concernment in the 
Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes 
demeane themselves, as well as men ; and thereafter to confine, 
imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors. For 
Bookes are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie 
of Life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny 
they are ; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacie 
and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know 
they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous 
Dragons' teeth ; and being sown up and down, may chance to 
spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand unless wari- 
nesse be used, as good almost kill a Man, as kill a good Booke : 
who kills a Man, kills a reasonable creature, God's Image ; but 
hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason itself, kills the 
Image of God, as it were in the Eye. Many a Man lives a 
burden to the Earth ; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood 
of a master-spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a 
life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof 
perhaps there is no great losse ; and revolutions of ages doe not 
oft recover the losse of a rejected Truth, for the want of which 
whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore 
what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick 
men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserv'd and stor'd 
up in Bookes ; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus 
committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the 
whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution 
ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that 
sethereall and fifth essence, the breathe of reason itself, slaies an 
immortality rather than a life." 

From Burke's Speech at Bristol previous to the Election. 

" GENTLEMEN, Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. In 
such a country as this, they are of all bad things the worst, 
worse by far than anywhere else ; and they derive a particular 

364 ON CRITICS. [xiii. 

malignity even from the wisdom and soundness of the rest of 
our institutions. 

" For very obvious reasons you cannot trust the Crown with a 
dispensing power over any of your laws. However, a govern- 
ment, be it as bad as it may, will, in the exercise of a discretion- 
ary power, discriminate times and persons, and will not ordinarily 
pursue any man, when its own safety is not concerned. A mer- 
cenary informer knows no distinction. Under such a system, 
the obnoxious people are slaves, not only to the government, but 
they live at the mercy of every individual ; they are at once the 
slaves of the whole community, and of every part of it ; and the 
worst and most unmerciful men are those on whose goodness 
they most depend. 

" In this situation men not only shrink from the frowns of a 
stern magistrate, but they are obliged to fly from their very 
species. The seeds of destruction are sown in civil intercourse, 
in social habitudes. The blood of wholesome kindred is infected. 
Their tables and beds are surrounded with snares. All the means 
given by Providence to make life safe and comfortable, are per- 
verted into instruments of terror and torment. This species of 
universal subserviency, that makes the very servant who waits 
behind your chair, the arbiter of your life and fortune, has such 
a tendency to degrade and abase mankind, and to deprive them 
of that assured and liberal state of mind which alone can make 
us what we ought to be, that I vow to God, I would sooner bring 
myself to put a man to immediate death for opinions I disliked, 
and so to get rid of the man and his opinions at once, than to 
fret him with a feverish being, tainted with the jail-distemper of 
a contagious servitude, to keep him above ground, an animated 
mass of putrefaction, corrupted himself, and corrupting all 
about him." 

But if the study of such passages as these may 
expand as well as elevate our minds, and give us some 
sense of the very different ways in which great prin- 
ciples may be uttered by the men who have been 
possessed of them, do we not want some warnings 


against the errors of style into which great men often 
fall, and especially against that terrible error of affecta- 
tion ? If rules would help us in this matter, we want 
them exceedingly. If we could ever be preserved from 
writing or speaking anything that is not simple, and 
natural, and manly, he who suggested the means of 
preservation would be worthy of our highest gratitude. 
But let me say, once for all, he that wants to be saved 
from this fault will never be saved from it by looking 
for it in another. The good which converse with noble 
writers will do him is, that they will enable him to 
detect it in himself. They will be very helpful in 
teaching us our un-English ways, and our affected 
ways. Sometimes they will teach it by the contrast of 
their own truthfulness and simplicity, sometimes by 
the pain which we shall find in seeing their deviations 
from the excellences which they have taught us to 
admire. I am touching here upon a very severe kind 
of criticism, a very disagreeable kind. It is when the 
judge discovers the culprit at his own door, in his own 
home. It is when he is brought to confess, "The 
things which I fancied I saw outside are here in me. 
This guilty man must not be let free, or I shall indeed 
be condemned." I suppose we should all like to escape 
that criticism if we could; but those who have had to 
undergo it have reason to thank God that they could 
not escape it, and to confess that all their notions 
of criticism were utterly false till they had passed 
through it. 

I have spoken so long upon this subject, partly 

366 ON CRITICS. [Xiii. 

because, as we all write prose, we are all criticising 
ourselves when we speak of that, whereas if I passed 
to verse I should be entering upon a subject of which 
experience can tell me nothing. For that reason, if I 
thought criticism consisted in finding fault, or in laying 
down laws, or in punishing the guilty, I should hold 
my peace; because for me to undertake any one of 
these functions would be the sheerest usurpation. But, 
upon the other principle, he who has least of the 
poetical faculty may be most indebted to poets ; they 
may have awakened in him perceptions, and given 
him an insight, which but for that influence he would 
have wanted more than any. And, using this test, I 
believe we are not likely to become indiscriminate 
devourers of poetry, or to fail of a certain keen sense 
of what has power in it and what has not. We may 
find, indeed, that that does us good at one period which 
we thought lightly of at another. Comets that we 
wondered at may pass away, and stars that were hidden 
may come forth and shine very brightly. Every day, 
therefore : may make us more afraid of laying down 
censures, or of accepting those which would exclude 
this or that man from the roll of poetical teachers; 
but, on the other hand, every day will make us more 
indifferent to that which does not speak to ourselves, 
which merely plays about us without entering into us. 
There is no occasion to tell any person who admires 
such verses that he must not do so. We cannot the 
least tell that he must not. It may be very good for 
him that he should. All we have to do is to be 


honest: not to pretend to be affected by that which 
does not affect us if it is ever so popular, not to deny 
that any does which is ever so unpopular ; to sympa- 
thise with other people in their feelings as much as 
we can, and not to say more about our own than the 
circumstances demand. So by trying to be true and 
not false with ourselves, we shall come to have a 
relish for truth, and a dislike to falsehood wheresoever 
we meet with it. 

But here again a caution is to be observed. The 
poetry which is not true in itself, which is merely 
imitated or adopted from others, may, nevertheless, not 
unfrequently be the expression of a true heart. This is 
a paradox which I can explain to you far better in the 
words of a very earnest and real poetess of our own 
day than in my own : 

1 ' Many fervent souls 

Strike rhyme on rhyme who would strike steel on steel 
If steel had offered, in a restless heat 
Of doing something. Many tender souls 
Have strung their losses on a rhyming thread 
As children cowslips : the more pains they take, 

The work more withers 

You catch a sight of Nature earliest, 

In full front sun face, and your eyelids wink 

And drop before the wonder oft; you miss 

The form through seeing the light. I lived those days, 

And wrote because I lived, unlicensed else. 

My heart beat in my brain. Life's violent flood 

Abolished bounds; and which my neighbour's field, 

Which mine, what mattered ? It is so in youth: 

We play at leap-frog over the God Term. 

The love within us and the love without 

368 ON CRITICS. [xm. 

Are mixed, confounded ; if we are loved or love, 
We scarce distinguish. So with other power : 
Being acted on and acting seem the same ; 
In that first on-rush of Life's chariot wheels 
We know not if the forests move or we. 
And so, like most young poets in a flush 
Of individual life, I poured myself 
Along the veins of others, and achieved 
Mere lifeless imitations of live verse, 
And made the living answer for the dead, 
Profaning Nature. . . . 

We call the Muse, ' O Muse, benignant Muse/ 
As if we had seen her purple-braided head 
With the eyes in it start between the boughs 
As often as a stag's. What make-believe 
With so much earnest ! What effete results 
From virile efforts ! What cold wire-drawn Odes 
From such white heats ! Bucolics where the cows 
Would scare the writer if they splashed the mud 
In lashing off the flies ! Didactics driven 
Against the heels of what the Master said ; 
And counterfeiting epics, shrill with trumps, 
A babe might blow between two straining cheeks 
Of bubbled rose to make his mother laugh ! 
And elegiac griefs, and songs of love, 
Like cast-off nosegays picked up on the road, 
The worse for being warm : all these things writ 
On happy mornings with a morning heart 
That leaps for love, is active for resolve, 
Weak for art only." 

I hope I need not say that I understand Mrs. 
Browning to speak in these verses as a dramatist, not 
as an autobiographer. If I took them in the latter 
sense, I should have to protest against them as very 
unjust to many true poems which bore the name of 
Elizabeth Barrett, which were no mere "cowslips on a 


rhyming thread," which have not withered, nor are 
likely to wither. Subject to that remark, I accept her 
words as a description no less wise and faithful than it 
is beautiful, of the true and honest and deep impulses 
which may lead young poets to write what is in 
itself feeble and short-lived. The lesson should not 
be lost on any critic who cares to do good and not 
to inflict pain. 

The guilty men, whom the original Edinburgh 
Reviewers desired to take vengeance upon, were 
chiefly among their contemporaries. But it is impos- 
sible that our judgments should be limited to them. 
Old writers, especially the writers of history, must 
stand a trial in our courts. And we shall deal with 
them whoever they be, upon the same principles that 
we followed in the other case. A venerable person, 
say Herodotus or Livy, or one of our old English 
Chroniclers, is brought to the bar. It is discovered 
that certain stories occur in one or other of these 
writers which must be regarded as fables, not as 
authentic narratives. The rapid judge, terribly afraid 
that he shall be condemned if the culprit escapes, 
immediately writes "mythical" or "legendary" 
against the old book. "Very pretty," he says, "no 
doubt, for children. It is quite proper that they 
should have nursery tales such as we had in our days. 
But what are they to us ? We know them to be 
false." A peremptory decision perhaps satisfactory 
to him who makes it ; but not quite satisfactory to 

those who believe that there is such a thing as 

2 A 

370 ON CKITICS. [xiii. 

and who wish to discover what it is. They know that 
Sir Robert Walpole told his son not to read him his- 
tory, for that he knew to be false. The clever states- 
man did not speak at all of the history which contains 
allusions to supernatural beings. He meant that with 
which he had been conversant all his life that which 
he had been contributing to make. He meant the 
policy of Courts and Prime Ministers. He meant the 
speeches and votes in the House of Commons, and all 
the by-play that preceded them. These he had the 
best possible reasons for knowing to be false, or, at 
least, to contain a preponderating element of falsehood 
in them. And yet, out of these materials out of 
memoirs written often by very dishonest men who did 
not wish to tell the truth out of letters, and docu- 
ments, and debates, often contrived for the very pur- 
pose of mystifying it we do suppose we can extract 
something which is real, something which did actually 
happen. We even call that which is liable to all 
these perversions and contradictions " the historical 
period ; " we boast that there we are out of the reach 
of legends. Therefore this kind of treatment these 


broad classifications will avail us very little if we are 
really wanting to understand the course of the world, and 
what has been done in it. There seems to be another 
kind of criterion altogether different from this ; much 
more sifting, and at the same time much more reverent. 
The true critic must desire to pierce through the con- 
fused and incoherent statements of one time as much 
as of another. And being convinced that there is 


eternal Truth at the bottom, that the world is God's 
world, .and that no crafts or trickeries of men can 
cause it to be otherwise, he must always wish to get 
through every fiction that men have devised into the 
fact that is hidden beneath it. The most honest and 
faithful criticism of this time, instead of treating the 
old histories with contempt, has restored them to 
honour. It has acknowledged that the legends which 
they contain are often much more worthy of examina- 
tion and study than those with which Sir Robert 
Walpole was conversant. A patient critic may not be 
sure that he has discovered what they mean. He- may 
see glimpses of meaning which others may follow out ; 
or he may have mistaken their meaning, and others 
may find the clue to it : but every step in his progress 
convinces him that it is there ; that men did not make 
it, but found it, and generally marred it. He does not 
believe them to be liars because they thought the 
world was under supernatural guidance. He does not 
find that those whom Sir Robert Walpole knew, who 
had no such faith, lied less because they thought all 
things were left to them and their management. He 
is astonished to find how much the histories of all 
nations are involved with these supernatural records. 
He thinks that a fact well worth looking into. If 
he could find an interpretation of it, much would 
be cleared up to him that has puzzled him. He even 
hopes that such an interpretation may exist. This is 
the other kind of criticism to which I alluded ; and I 
believe there are many honourable and admirable speci- 

372 ON CRITICS. [xin. 

mens of it in our day. I think all good may be hoped 
for from such critics, because they believe in Truth, 
and because they are convinced that it can only be 
sought for in humility. 

Before I quit this subject of historical, or, as it is 
sometimes called, philological criticism, I may give you 
an instance of the way in which the same man may 
exhibit the most clear and masterly judgment when he 
takes one of those courses of which I have been speak- 
ing, and may become feeble and contemptible when he 
deviates into the other. I believe it will be allowed 
by foreign scholars, as well as by English, that our 
countryman Richard Bentley was one of the subtlest 
diviners of the meaning of obscure passages, one of the 
most skilful detectors of forgery, one of those who 
understood best how to follow out a course of evidence, 
and to see how each point of it bore upon every other. 
Considering that he was naturally a rash, dogmatical, 
ill-tempered man, it is wonderful how all these bad 
qualities were held in check, and with what patience 
he could devote himself to the working out of a diffi- 
cult historical problem when that was his object, only 
allowing his talent for guessing, which was unrivalled, 
to assist him in catching at hints which were after- 
wards to be verified by experiment. ' In this sense he 
is the beginner of a method in philological and histori- 
cal studies very like that which Bacon began in physi- 
cal studies. But this same man, in an evil hour, set 
himself up as a judge and improver of " Paradise Lost." 
He could not admire the book, he knew nothing about 


it ; but because he was a great critic he fancied he was 
a judge of poets, and was able to set them right. His 
emendations of this poem remain the greatest monu- 
ment of absurdity that an ingenious man ever raised. 
They should be read by young men, not that they may 
laugh at one who was vastly superior to any critic of 
his own, or perhaps of later times, but as a solemn 
warning that the greatest possessor of the critical 
faculty becomes a fool when he thinks he can look 
down upon great authors instead of looking up to 
them, when he fancies that he can measure them by 
his rules instead of seeking to know what were their 
rules, and what they themselves were. 

But there are subjects more interesting to us at 
least to most of us than the mere examination of the 
sources of history ever can be. We may look at great 
periods of history, we may study the feelings and 
passions and objects of those who were the actors in 
them. Here is a field for those two kinds of critics 
I have been speaking of, to try their different plans in. 
When I speak of plans, however, I do not mean that 
all the plans of those who set up for judges, and look 
down upon the events and doers of past times as some- 
thing far beneath them, will be the same. Of neces- 
sity they will be very various. Each of them stands 
on his own pinnacle ; he contemplates the ground 
below from that. One takes his measure from what 
he thinks the peculiar distinctions and glories of the 
nineteenth century. By these he judges of the twelfth 
century, or the sixteenth, or the seventeenth. So far 

374 ON CRITICS. [xiii. 

as they departed from these they are all pronounced 
evil ; so far as any approximates to these, there is in it 
an element of good. Another takes his stand on the 
maxims of the party in which he has been educated ; 
everything is seen from a Whig or from a Tory point 
of view. One set of actors is seen to be fighting for 
eveiything that is holy and precious, the other for 
everything that is mean and detestable. There may be 
degrees of excellence on the one side, and degrees of 
villany on the other ; but one carries the black flag 
and the other the white : that decides the question 
generally about leaders as well as privates. Another 
spectator dwells upon a more serene height than either 
of these. He looks down with impartial pity and con- 
tempt upon the whole struggle ; all are foolish, all are 
wrong. He is ashamed of belonging to so contemptible 
a race of beings ; it is quite amazing to him how he 
ever came to belong to them, why his habitation was 
not assigned to him in some fixed star, entirely out of 
the reach of their passions and turmoils. 

I do not say which of these different judges I should 
most wish to follow, if I must follow one of them. I 
will frankly tell you which I should least like to follow. 
I would rather be the most vehement and mad partisan 
than one of those cold contemners of all parties arid of 
all men. Wordsworth speaks of one of his heroines 

" As dwelling in a sky 

Of undisturbed humanity." 

I never liked the phrase, or envied the position. 
But it seems to me that these men have attained a sky 


of undisturbed inhumanity ; and therefore I could most 
heartily say in this sense, " Save, oh save me from the 
impartial man!" But I apprehend that there is a kind 
of criticism which does not make it needful that we 
should be partisans in order to escape from this worse 
calamity. If we once abdicate that high position of 
being law-givers, and wish rather to know what the 
law is under which we are all placed, and to obey that, 
we may take most interest in those parts of our history 
which have been most stirring ; we may wish nothing 
less than that they had not been stirring ; we may 
complain of nothing less than the earnestness of those 
who were engaged in them on either side. It is not 
their earnestness which hurts us, except that it shames 
us for having so little of the same quality, for believing 
so little, for being so cowardly in asserting what we 
believe. Their earnestness, we may be sure, was given 
to them because they were asserting a principle which 
it was worth while to live and to die for, I mean that 
each party was asserting such a principle ; that in our 
civil wars, for instance, there was not one atom too 
much of zeal on either side for what that side felt to be 
at stake, not one atom which we could afford to dis- 
pense with the absence of which would not have been 
to us the most grievous loss. It is the pettiness and 
selfishness which mingled with this earnestness, the 
little, low motives which had nothing to do with the 
principle, and which curdled and made sour that which 
had to do with it, this is what we are to hate ; for 
this is what we know in ourselves to be the cause of 

376 ON CRITICS. [xm. 

all our individual feebleness, of all our national degen- 
eracy. We cannot criticise it in them till we have 
criticised it first in ourselves. When we have, the 
more heartily we condemn it the more heartily we shall 
reverence all the better thoughts and feelings which 
were struggling against it in every party and in every 
man ; the more we shall be sure that those had a divine 
origin and a permanent strength; the more we shall 
be sure that they have each brought in their contribu- 
tion to the national strength, and that they will unite 
to make it stronger still when the spirits that have 
degraded and held them down shall be cast out. 

In what I. have said on this subject I have thought 
particularly of the period of our own civil wars, because 
that has suffered more than perhaps any from the 
partial as well as the pseudo-impartial temper, and 
because no time would reward us more if it were 
studied in a hearty, sympathising, reverential spirit, 
which would not suffer us to pervert or warp any 
documents to suit a purpose of ours, which would 
enable us to discern, much more clearly than we ever 
have done, that Divine purpose which is working 
itself out through all the most contradictory and self- 
willed movements of men. But the principles which 
are applicable to this crisis are applicable to all times. 
They would enable us to do justice even to those torpid 
and stagnant times which often follow great excite- 
ments, into which great men seem not to be born, or in 
which they become changed into little men, being 
dwarfed, not by their circumstances, but by their own 


submission to circumstances, by their want of earnest 
faith in a power that could raise them above circum- 
stances. Even in such times as these, the true critic 
of history will see that the same laws are at work as 
in those which bring forth all the good that is in men, 
and all the evil, into full display. They will learn that 
nothing is so ignominious as that craving for great men 
to appear, as if the universe depended upon them ; as 
if each man may not do right in his own sphere with- 
out waiting for them, or asking whether there are such 
or not ; as if the very longing for them were not a part 
of that restlessness which interferes with all greatness 
and checks the growth of it. In fact, what I have 
been chiefly maintaining throughout this lecture is, 
that the desire to be kings, and judges, and law-makers, 
has been one main cause why we have not done more, 
and are not capable of more; and that if we would 
turn the faculty which we suppose qualifies us for 
kings and law-givers to another use, we might obtain 
blessings and honours of which our ambition to be 
grand deprives us. 

I am, however, very far from thinking that one of 
the main uses of criticism is not to recover the illus- 
trious men whom God has given us from the mis- 
representations of opponents who hated them, or of 
admirers who did not understand them. In every 
case, I think we shall find that those who have 
spoken of great men either as their men, those who 
were doing their work, and propagating their opinions, 
or who have attacked them because they were not 

378 ON CEITICS. [xni. 

doing their work and propagating their opinions, or 
have overlooked them as if they were their inferiors, 
and might receive a sentence of applause or disapproval 
from them, have always done something to distort 
facts, and to make their biographies false. And I 
believe everyone who has affectionately, and in a 
serious respectful spirit, tried to understand what they 
meant, and what they were living for, has found 
apparently the most heterogeneous testimonies, help- 
ing him to bring out the live man who had been 
turned into a hero or a monster, or into a mere collec- 
tion of dried bones, which is something worse than a 
monster. It is not, of course, possible to prove this in 
all cases, because people write biographies from many 
mixed motives ; and genuine affection, which is always 
favourable to truth, may mix with party motives, 
which are favourable to falsehood; but I think that 
our age has furnished abundant examples to prove that 
biography may be the most worthless or the most 
profitable of all studies. And in every case where it is 
profitable, we owe it to a resolute determination on 
the part of the biographer not to put himself in the 
place of his subject, or above his subject. It is, I 
know, very difficult indeed to avoid this temptation. 
The thought will be suggested again and again to the 
biographer by others, and it will rise up in himself, 
" Ought not I to be moralizing upon this or that fact 
of the life ? Am I right if I do not express my opinion 
about it ? " And then comes the wish to see the thing 
just a little different from what it was the desire, if 


possible, to make the facts tell a tale, so that they shall 
point the moral better. The temptation is great. But 
if we are assured that it is a temptation to do an 
immoral and a false thing we can resist it. Now, I 
apprehend, the desire to moralize upon the acts of our 
fellow-creatures rather than to exhibit them as they are, 
arises from the very same motive which leads painters 
to put into nature what they do not find there. I 
know nothing of Pre-Raphaelite controversies, and am 
too stupid about art to be able to say one word on the 
criticism which has reference to it. But if any persons 
say that we ought to look straight at Nature, hoping 
that in due time she will reveal her meaning to us, if 
it is ever so slow in coming, and that in the meantime 
we are not to anticipate her lessons, or to put any of 
our notions or fancies into her, by way of making her 
look prettier and more agreeable: this seems to me 
honest and true doctrine, which, I suppose, must apply 
to that department, because I know no other connected 
with human life to which it does not apply. In 
biographizes I am afraid that religious men are often 
the most prone to depart from it, though they have 
the least excuse for doing so, and the most solemn and 
encouraging warning to do otherwise. For in the book 
which they regard as their rule and model, there is no 
moralizing about the lives which are given to us. 
They contain their own moral. We profane it and 
destroy it when, instead of seeking to bring it forth, 
we adorn it with additions of our own. 

I have spoken more than once of the danger we are 

380 ON CRITICS. [xin. 

in of judging other times by the standard of our own, 
and of the correction of this tendency, which lies in 
the true criticism that seeks to see ages and men just 
as they were. But the judging lordly temper may take 
another and apparently opposite direction. We may 
utterly scorn our own time, and set up some other time 
against it. We may fill the air with wailings about 
the decay of all heroism, the loss of all wisdom, in that 
century in which it is our bitter misfortune to be born. 
This is, no doubt, a reaction against the other tendency. 
We may often oscillate between the one aud the other ; 
and when we have settled that we will like some 
period in the world's history better than this, we may 
often change our opinions which it shall be, the 
Classical Ages, or the early Christian Ages, or the 
Middle Ages, or the age of the Reformation. It is 
scarcely possible that we should rest in any one of 
these; we shall probably try them all in turn. For 
each one will show us some bright image which we 
feel that we have need of; and then each one will turn 
its darkened side to us and will show us deformities 
which we have never dreamt of. How can there be 
any end of this ? Shall we ever come at the heroic 
period, the golden age ? No, thank God ; that is not 
in any one of the ages, but in all of them. The good 
men, the heroes, whenever such appeared, sought for it 
close to them and not at a distance. And they were 
able to see it because they were not going up into the 
heaven or down into the deep to discover it. We 
want a criticism which shall do justice to the time in 


which we are born, to the men who live in it, just as 
much as to any time gone by, which shall do justice 
not to its modes and fashions, which are worth just as 
much as the modes and fashions of any other age and 
no more ; not to its inventions, though we may rejoice 
in them, and do all honour to the patient toil and 
thought which has produced them ; but to that in it 
which is most common, most human, to that which 
does not separate us from other times but unites us to 
them. May not our work to find out this common 
bond of fellowship give it a higher dignity than all 
those peculiar treasures that we think others had and 
we have lost ? If we are driven in our weakness to 
ask how all may be men, can we not leave the heroes 
to the elder generations ? Is it not possible, after all, 
that a man may be more glorious than a hero ? that to 
be on a level with all, and to feel that the lowliest is 
the highest, may be better than to vaunt of some great 
champions and representatives, who make us think 
even more highly of ourselves than of them ? 

It appears to me that this may be the function of 
that criticism which I said, in the beginning of my 
lecture, our age was in some especial manner bound 
to cultivate. When it takes that form, which I have 
endeavoured to show is its only reasonable form, it 
puts us in commerce with all generations and with all 
human beings. It may enable us to make all their 
possessions our own while we are most ready to ac- 
knowledge them as theirs. The true critical discern- 
ment which separates that which is capricious and 

382 ON CRITICS. [ X m. 

transitory from that which abides, that which belongs 
to all from that which may be the rightful and proper 
inheritance of some here and some there, must make 
everyone richer. That criticism which distinguishes 
between the substance and the shadow, the reality and 
its counterfeit, must bring us into nearer connection 
with truth, and therefore with freedom. That criti- 
cism which leads us to humble ourselves that we 
may see a beauty, and a goodness, and a glory which 
are not ours, must be a great deliverance from the 
frivolity and vanity which are so natural to us, and 
which the false habit of criticism is continually fos- 

Whether this is the style of criticism which prevails 
most among us in the present day, whether it is this 
which has given popularity to our periodical litera- 
ture, whether it is this which guides the judgment of 
our newspapers respecting books, or art, or men, I do 
not take upon myself to decide. I am not a judge, 
either to absolve them or to condemn them. I am not 
afraid of being judged for not judging. But I am 
sure, that whether it has established itself or not into 
a rule and habit, the impulse to prefer this kind of 
criticism to the other is growing amongst us, and that 
some of our best writers of books, if not of periodicals, 
have done much to encourage it, and to show us excellent 
examples of it ; and that wherever such examples are 
presented to any class of our countrymen, especially, 
if I may be allowed to say so, to the largest and most 
important class of all, there is a cordial response to 


them. I might repeat many names which it would be 
an honour to me to speak and which you would hear 
with respect and gratitude. I will allude to but one, 
which in this town I could hardly pass over, and yet 
which it is unnecessary and somewhat bold in me to 
refer to in your presence. There was a lecture de- 
livered between four and five years ago, I do not 
know whether it was in this hall or to this society, 
which most of you will have read and all will have heard 
of. It was a lecture on the influence of poetry, ad- 
dressed especially to the working classes. 1 It appears 
to have been called forth by a particularly vulgar 
criticism upon one of the greatest poems of our day, or 
of any day. It is itself a specimen of that best kind 
of criticism which delights to draw forth the sense and 
beauty of a book, and is able to do so because the heart 
of the critic is in sympathy with the heart of the 
writer. Though with much rarer opportunities than 
you had of being acquainted with the speaker, I can 
bring before myself the look of scorn which must have 
been on that beautiful countenance when he de- 
nounced the low wit of the reviewer, and that look of 
genial cordial appreciation which spoke of the sorrow, 
the conflicts, and the hopes of the poet. He knows, as 
we do not, what is the full explanation of such sorrows, 
and the fulfilment of such hopes. But this we may 
know, no instance can more feelingly remind us of it, 
that the words which come forth out of lips that 
have been touched with a fire from heaven spread 
1 Lecture by the Rev. Frederick Robertson. 

384 ON CEITICS. [ xm . 

furthest, and exercise the mightiest power, when those 
lips are closed ; that he who is severest to himself is 
the most tolerant of others ; that there is no criticism 
which reaches our follies and our sins like that of a 
warm-hearted and loving man. 



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The Epistle of St. John continued. 

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